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Professional Opinion

Safety planning: How to prepare for the worst

A strong review process and mobile site improve one district’s school safety plan
Michael G. Shoaf is superintendent of Rocky River City School District.
Michael G. Shoaf is superintendent of Rocky River City School District.

With violent events seemingly on the rise in schools across the country, district leaders must develop fluid and thorough safety plans.

To address the variety of individual circumstances that may accompany these events, fluidity must be coupled with authentic practice and the engagement of stakeholders and experts. Practicing the plan, constantly considering best practices, and giving staff and students flexibility to adjust actions during an emergency are essential for a quality school safety plan.

The Rocky River City School District (RRCSD) in northeast Ohio is fully engaged in its safety plan. RRCSD’s plan is in constant review and practice—prior, during and after the school year, as well as following internal and external emergencies.

RRCSD, like many school districts, works closely with local law enforcement and fire/rescue officials, experts and stakeholders. RRCSD leaders share openly, knowing that the process of reviewing, updating, practicing and implementing the safety plan is a critical component to having safe schools for all students and staff.

Knowing that each event is unique, school leaders have developed a process to ensure the district’s safety plan addresses as many different situations as possible. Certainly no plan is perfect, but constant review, adjustments and practice will improve success and safety.

Work with local officials

Rocky River’s safety plan is developed in partnership with local law enforcement, reviewed with fire and rescue, and submitted to the Ohio attorney general as required by Ohio Revised Code Section 3313.536.

Partnerships with local agencies provide several layers of security. First, police and fire officials have comprehensive knowledge of the schools’ design and layout. Second, police and fire/rescue can access all the district’s buildings and can get in contact quickly with key school personnel.

Finally, police and fire/rescue officials have unlimited opportunities to visit the schools and are welcomed to tour each building. Familiarity with each facility by police and fire/rescue officials is critically important.


Safety plans are not developed in a vacuum. Annually, school leaders and staff join local experts to offer input in reviewing plans.

A stronger security plan results when district personnel offer first-hand knowledge about the operations of the buildings while local experts recommend best practices based on experiential circumstances. A more complete plan results when coupling staff and first responders’ knowledge.


Practice is the key to success for any safety plan. A written plan must be put into action to ensure practicality and workability. Staff and students need to regularly practice a safety plan to completely understand how it actually works. Once the safety plan is fully reviewed and practiced, unannounced drills should take place.


The district’s safety plan, including contact information and floor plans, is posted on a secure website that is accessible to administrators and local first responders. In addition, the plan is also available on a mobile site, which includes phone numbers for district and emergency officials that can be dialed at the touch of finger.

This mobile site makes the safety plan available to officials at all times and locations. The mobile site is a unique feature that was designed and launched by safety plan leader Dianna Foley, who is the district’s executive director of communications and organizational development.

Details of the Rocky River City School District’s safety plan are specific and seek to account for a variety of situations. District leaders have developed a protocol for meetings with staff, students, and local officials to review plans and seek opportunities to make them more effective. The district’s safety plan remains fluid.

Michael G. Shoaf is superintendent of Rocky River City School District.