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A progressive approach to school safety: prepare, respond and review

NaviGate Prepared provides schools with a virtual safety response tool to develop, document and execute an effective safety program

Describe preparation versus prevention when it comes to a school district’s safety plan. 

You can only prepare for general incidents; you can’t prepare for the specific. Preparing a safety plan gets everybody on the same page. Whether it’s a bus accident, bomb threat or intruder alert, prevention comes through debriefing after an emergency occurs. You can’t prevent a bus accident, but you can prevent inadequacies in how we communicate to parents, how we handle injured students and how we deal with the press during that time. 

Talk about communication needs around an emergency. 

What is needed is clear, concise communication that isn’t muddled by using multiple communication devices. Recently there was someone who escaped police custody in our district, and our schools went into lockdown. Staff used walkie-talkies, cell phones and texting. Nothing was being clearly communicated through one single channel. Communication should be streamlined to use one method for getting information to the people working through an emergency. It needs to be clear and concise so there are no questions. 

Do you run safety drills and tabletop simulations? Do you also conduct emergency debriefings? 

We run safety drills, and we run tabletop simulations at our leadership meetings that involve our entire administrative team of 19 people. There is a fishbowl activity in which four administrators are given an emergency situation. The other 15 watch how they handle it and offer constructive criticism on what could have been done differently. After an actual emergency, we hold a debriefing to evaluate our actions and get a clear understanding of the emergency. 

Can you give an example of how that worked? 

We recently had a bus accident on a field trip. There were five buses on the trip, and about 10 miles away from the school district, two buses were involved in the accident. Administrators reported to the accident site, while other administrators commenced reunification protocols at the school. Other staff went with students to the hospital. The first thing we do in a debriefing is to review the progression of events before, during and after the event. We then itemize actions that went well and how those actions helped during the event. Conversely, we also itemize actions we took, or failed to take, which indicate a need for improvement or that may lead to new protocols. With the bus accident, one thing we could have done better involved a glitch in our communication with parents. For the next time something happens, we now have a plan in place to decide which administrator will take responsibility for communicating with parents and media. The debriefing ensures that next time we’re not going to make the same mistakes. 

While you cannot get complacent, given the current safety program aligned with NaviGate Prepared, is there some peace of mind offered? 

You can’t expect someone to grab a 300-page emergency management plan on the way to a bus accident, but everybody has their cell phones with them. NaviGate Prepared offers that emergency management plan through an app on your phone. If we have an issue with an intruder, our local law enforcement has access to pictures of every classroom so they can see the setup. They can also access maps of each building through the app. With NaviGate Prepared, we can revisit our emergency management plan after an emergency occurs, make necessary updates, and automatically push that out so we have a real-time, fluid emergency management plan that’s efficient and operable. 

For more information, visit: www.navigateprepared.com 

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