Superintendents, school administrators and safety professionals across the country are required to make the best, informed decisions for students’ safety and security needs. In order to mitigate risks associated with emergency evacuations, school districts, colleges and universities must have a proper plan in place. Safety expert, Clifford Adkins, CEO of Med Sled®, has released his top-six crisis management tips to ensure schools across the country are better prepared for emergency events:
- Plan for the worst-case scenario. In the late afternoon of May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado hit Joplin, Missouri and, for those in its path, “it was a catastrophic event that no one could have expected.” These words, from Charles Copple, the retired Battalion Chief for the City of Joplin Fire Department, should serve a reminder that you must plan for the worst. Over the past few years, the U.S. has experienced a record number of destructive natural disasters and, sadly, in recent years manmade disasters such as bomb incidents have increased dramatically creating new worst-case scenarios that we must consider in our evacuation planning. While data on bomb incidents and threats in schools are limited, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) recorded 1,055 incidents of bombs being placed on school premises from January 1990 to February 28, 2002. After the Columbine incident, more than 70 percent of respondents nationally said that the same thing could happen in their community. When developing school evacuation plans and drills, emergency planning professionals should deliberate on what they are more confident in and then plan for that NOT working when conducting drills.
- Assess risks of geographic vulnerabilities. When it comes to preparing for disasters, you cannot simply rely on the calendar or local forecast; you must rely on the need to be prepared for a multitude of disasters, both natural and manmade. Almost one-fourth of all significant tornadoes occur in Tornado Alley, yet the vast majority of high fatality tornadoes in recent years have occurred in areas such as the southeastern United States where tornadoes are an especially rare event on any given day. Stay informed of the types of emergencies likely to affect your region so you are ready for the unexpected.
- Conduct annual reviews of your evacuation protocols – If you have not, they are likely outdated. According to the National Association of State Boards of Education, there are no nationally-adopted emergency management standards for schools, meaning each school district is on its own to keep up with the evacuation protocol changes. Protocols have changed considerably since 9/11 – for example, “shelter-in-place” procedures are still widely used among school districts when, in fact, sheltering in place is one of the most misunderstood and applied protocols and is almost never recommended by government agencies or emergency planning professionals. If you don’t have an emergency evacuation plan for students with disabilities or mobility issues, you not only risk Office of Civil Rights (OCR) complaints, but also civil suits.
- Ensure plans address all students’ needs, including those with disabilities. Ushering hundreds of students from a school building takes serious coordination and planning. Do your protocols, plans and drills incorporate those with a disability or injury? What happens when a child or staff member is in a wheelchair or on crutches? While schools are required to conduct annual evacuation and safety drills, many fail to include those students and staff with special-needs in their planning process or in evacuation drills. This creates a serious gap in your emergency preparedness; it is critical to include the parents and the children with disabilities in the planning process AND during drills. Getting their input and support will ensure better plans and more realistic drills.
- Ensure you have the equipment to support your plans. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines have become the de facto “best design practices” for making public schools accessible to individuals with special needs or disabilities. It is an ADA requirement that these individuals not only have access to the facilities, but that they can get out in an emergency. The National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF) recommends plans should include procedures, equipment and training for evacuating school occupants – including special needs and disabled students and staff – in a variety of emergencies and building conditions and by a variety of routes. In large-scale evacuation scenarios, having the right evacuation equipment is critical. When evaluating equipment ensure you choose a manufacturer that will partner with you to assess your true needs, provide accessible and intuitive equipment and will address the worst-case scenario. Avoid carry and wheeled devices; these can be dangerous for both the student as well as staff in case you have to evacuate over debris-filled hallways. The best evacuation equipment needs to be non-lift, slide devices that address both vertical and horizontal evacuation needs.
- Be realistic in your training and drills. Protocols and equipment are critical to your emergency preparedness, but protocols are only as good as the training and drills you conduct. Existing research suggests that realistic drills can increase student and staffs’ knowledge and skills of how to respond in an emergency, without elevating their anxiety or perceived safety. Evacuations do not happen in a perfect environment, so make them as real as possible. Fire and police departments urge school districts to be self-sufficient in case first responders don’t arrive in time for an evacuation. When running a drill do not assume assistance from first responders; create a chaotic environment – pipe in noise, turn off the lights, shut down the elevators – and include your students and staff with disabilities. Create the environment that will truly prepare your staff and students for a real world evacuation.
About ARC Products, LLC and Med Sled®
ARC Products, LLC, based in St. Louis, Missouri, is a leading manufacturer of cost-effective evacuation solutions, including the Med Sled®. Since 2004, ARC has been developing products to support disaster preparedness and emergency evacuation to ensure that non-ambulatory individuals are transported safely in emergency situations. There are over 45,000 Med Sled® evacuation devices currently in use in over 2,500 facilities nationwide, including hospitals, nursing homes, fire and EMS, schools and universities, government facilities and the US military. The Med Sled® holds a U.S. patent for its design and is approved by the GSA. For more information visit www.medsled.com