Crisis Planning–It’s Your Job

Vol. 3 No. 1

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We have written on this topic before, but continue to see it as one of the biggest risks schools face today—the absence of serious crisis planning. At a time when the amount of and types of risks are increasing (e.g., cyberbullying, cyber-risk, issues of facility safety, discrimination suits, etc.), it is critical that schools take crisis planning seriously, and plan for a variety of risks.

Whether due to lack of knowledge, time, resources, or courage, many (certainly not all) schools are simply not protecting kids, faculty, and staff as well as is possible. This is not only intrinsically wrong, but exposes the school to significant legal risk. Imagine a claim of—or worst yet, a real incident of—bullying, sexual harassment, wrongful termination, or injury. Now imagine these may have been avoided through proper training. Not only has the school allowed an otherwise preventable incident to happen, it is open to seconding guessing, and/or a suit of negligence—one arguing that your school did not do “what the reasonable school” would have/should have done to prepare for, or prevent, for this from occurring.

Most crisis and safety expects warn against a “cookie-cutter” or “rent-a-plan” approach. These do not allow for real education of the process or ownership of the plan. With guidance from many sources—safety experts, first responders, government (FEMA) resources, and the like—the school must create its own plan addressing its own special issues, mission, and values.

The following 13-point outline is offered (with detail in some areas) to reflect some of the many issues needing to be addressed in your overall plan.

Sample Outline for a Crisis Plan

I. Selection of crisis/planning team

Consider the following positions as part of the team:

  • Board (for support and resources)
  • Administration
  • Legal
  • Faculty and staff
  • Local first responders (fire, public health, EMS, etc.)
  • Grounds/maintenance
  • Medical professionals
  • School neighbors
  • Parents
  • Students (in nonhazardous roles)

II. Risk assessment (What occurrences have/could present the greatest threats?)

  • Poor hiring/firing protocols
  • Issues of facilities safety
  • Lack of training in misconduct and bullying
  • Lack of Acceptable Usage Policy (cyber-risks)
  • Lack of lab/art room/shop, safety equipment
  • Gaps in insurance policies
  • Weak or nonexistent vendor contracts
  • Infrequent practice of the four safety drills

III. Determination of pre-event, during and post-event goals, these should include amongst others:

  • Safety
  • Protect property
  • Loss reduction
  • Legal
  • Protect reputation
  • Continuity of operations
  • Resumption of normal duties
  • Recovery (Post-event procedures)

IV. Creation of teams (safety and emergency operation plan)
Consider representatives from:

  • Administration
  • Legal
  • Faculty and staff
  • Local first responders
  • Grounds/maintenance
  • Medical professionals
  • School neighbors
  • Parents
  • Students (in nonhazardous roles)

Consider individuals (or be certain the team is composed of individuals with complimentary attributes) with the following characteristics:

  • Leadership
  • Authority
  • Technical expertise
  • Medical knowledge
  • Physical and psychological abilities

V. Creation of safety plan—preventative in nature, addressing:

  • Safety “sweeps”
  • Off-site/business continuity strategy
  • Bullying/harassment training
  • “Table games”–altered fire drills

VI. Creation of Emergency Operating Plan (EOP)—determining response to actual occurrences, including:

  • Intruder
  • Assault
  • Bomb threat
  • Weapons on campus
  • Child abuse (actual or concern for)
  • Pandemics and other communicable diseases
  • Criminal activity
  • Death, serious injury, or illness of school community member
  • Suicide threat or attempt
  • Fire/smoke/explosion
  • Gas leaks/chemical spills
  • Kidnapping/hostage situation
  • Missing/lost student
  • Nearby emergencies
  • School bus or field-trip emergency
  • Severe weather
  • Biohazards
  • Utility failure

VI. Emergency response procedures and needed resources

  • Lock down
  • Shelter-in-place
  • Building evacuation
  • Campus evacuation
  • Reverse evacuations
  • Neighborhood evacuation (outpost operations)

VII. Role of first responders

  • EMTs
  • Police
  • Local hospital/Red Cross
  • Fire

VIII. Off-hours procedures

  • Faculty and staff contact information
  • Parent/student contact information
  • Crisis kit (see description below)

IX. Create on-site and off-site “crisis kit” including:

  • Plan initiation procedures
  • List of team members (and back-ups)
  • All critical contact information (including first-responders)
  • Cell phone
  • NOAA radio
  • Maps
  • Evacuation routes
  • Alternate site (outpost) for directing operations

X. Recovery: Dealing with the aftereffects (physiological and other safe haven issues)

XI. Parent/community communication protocols

XII. Plan to dealing with the media

  • Have ONE spokesperson (with back up)
  • Have a script; be factual but brief, for example:
    “X” has occurred, we are working with the proper authorities and when we have more details we will be back to you.”
  • Develop a relationship with the local press PRIOR to an occurrence

XIII. Conduct table-top games and functional (“real”) exercises (run what if scenarios to see if plan works)

Additional ISM resources of interest:
Collection: Risk Management: Audit (e-book)
ISM’s Monthly Update for School Heads Vol. 10 No. 6 When (not if) a Crisis Happens, Will You Be Ready?
Private School News Vol. 10 No. 7 School Shooting Lawsuit Raises Risk Management Concerns
ISM’s Monthly Update for Risk Manager’s Vol. 1 No. 3 Managing Risk With Basic Drills
ISM’s Monthly Update for Business Managers Vol.10 No. 2 Reducing Student Risk With Up-To-Date Medical Records

Additional ISM resources for Consortium Gold members
I&P Vol. 35 No. 12 Does Your Crisis Plan Really Protect Your Students (and School)?
I&P Vol. 30 No. 12 Lessons From Katrina: Disaster Planning at Private-Independent Schools

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