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Professional Opinion

Safe School Preparations for Your District

Update your crisis response plans.

PICTURE THE LAST DAY OF summer in your school district, the day before the teachers return. You have worked to finalize the master schedule, plan a meaningful staff development program, and ensure an efficient registration and orientation process. You're all ready for school, until a teacher calls to say that one of your students died by suicide the night before. In an instant you are no longer thinking of inventories, textbook supplies, schedules, or lunch and bus services. But you also find yourself thankful that a good portion of your summer was devoted to school safety, security and crisis response. You are stricken with grief for the student and family, and dreading the response in the school community, but still in control because you have a specific plan you can implement.

Preparing for the Inevitable

If you work as a K12 administrator for an extended period of time, it is almost certain that you will experience a tragedy that will impact your staff and students. It may be a death, serious injury, natural disaster, weather related incident, or event initiated by an intruder.

It is almost certain that a tragedy will impact your staff and students.

Therefore, as we approach another summer and will soon prepare for the next school year, it is essential that every district devote time and effort to review, revise and articulate crisis response plans. Here are critical activities:

Convene a school safety committee.

A representative group of parents, staff and students should review the school climate and current safety procedures. Ask for recommendations and revise policies and procedures accordingly.

Review behavior incidents of the previous year.

What were the major issues? Did the teacher and administrative interventions work? If not, what changes should be made?

Replenish crisis response materials and review procedures:

1. Review your written school safety plan and update it with accurate personnel data, phone trees, procedures for each incident, floor plans, etc. Print copies for your staff and outside responders.

2. Replace batteries in flashlights for all staff members.

3. Upgrade or refurbish walkie-talkies, weather radios, megaphones, PA systems, alarms, emergency lighting, and lockdown capabilities.

4. Update existing floor plans to reflect renovations, room number changes, locations of fire extinguishers, staff trained for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, and evacuation routes with reunification areas.

Prepare an evacuation location.

Establish contact names, phone numbers and facility floor plans, and make a plan for distributing students, staff and incident command members within the facility.

Update health awareness lists.

Identify students and staff with health requirements such as special respiratory, diabetic and bathroom needs.

Update parent e-mail addresses.

Prepare templates of letters to parents that depict various security scenarios, as guides for constructing real messages when needed.

Prepare a security-training schedule for parents, students and staff .

Train staff before the first day of school, train students immediately upon entering the building, and share plans with parents at orientations and parent events.

Contact emergency service and hospital personnel.

Make sure that an emergency isn't the first time they get to know you!

Scott Poland is chair of the National Emergency Assistance Team for the National Association of School Psychologists and a faculty member at Nova Southeastern University. Note: Scott Poland is a presenter in the EduComm Leadership Series one-day seminar "New Paths to School Safety and Security" in Framingham, Mass., October 2 and in Tarrytown, N.Y., October 3. Online registration opens July 16 (

Donna Poland is the director of the Upper University School at Nova Southeastern University