Effective Practices : School Operations
School Operations Section 1
1. Does your school have a person or group that is charged with the responsibility for emergency preparedness at your school? If yes, how was the person/group selected? If no, why not, and how does your school ensure it is adequately prepared in the case of an emergency?
2. What are the specific responsibilities that the person/group responsible for emergency preparedness is charged with?
3. Describe the regular rhythmic activities in your school that support emergency preparedness. For example, if your school conducts regular fire and/or earthquake drills describe their frequency and timing, key aspects and goals of the drill, and the manner in which the drills are assessed to ensure continuously improving performance.
4. How are any issues or concerns as a result of the drills or other safety activities communicated to the faculty, staff and Board?
5. Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy in relation to emergency preparedness.
6. What about your school’s preparation for an emergency is particularly effective?
7. If there were something you could change in relation to your school’s level of preparation for an emergency what would it be and why?
Does your school have a person or group that is charged with the responsibility for emergency preparedness at your school? If yes, how was the person/group selected? If no, why not, and how does your school ensure it is adequately prepared in the case of an emergency?
All schools have at least one person who has been formally charged with responsibility for emergency preparedness at the school. In many cases this is the school administrator, although the task is sometimes carried by the facilities manager or operations manager. Typically responsibility for emergency preparedness is a by-product of an individual’s job description.
Although most schools have identified a single person to carry the consciousness for emergency preparedness, many others often share in various aspects of the work. It is common practice for a school to establish an emergency preparedness committee. These committees might include the school administrator, the facilities manager, and the operations manager, a member of the Buildings and Grounds committee, a few teachers, and some parents. Often the teachers come from each section of the school, with a member of the early childhood, lower school and high school faculties all being included.
What are the specific responsibilities that the person/group responsible for emergency preparedness is charged with?
The first responsibility of the person or group charged with emergency preparedness is to ensure that the school has a complete and thorough plan. It is important that the school’s procedures and policies for emergency preparedness be well documented. The plan outlines the chain of command to be used during an emergency, the school’s emergency protocols, and other infrastructure issues that go into place when an emergency is declared. (See: Sample Table of Contents for Emergency Preparedness Plan)
The next responsibility is to ensure that the school coordinates regular drills to ensure that students, teachers and staff members all know what is required and expected during the various types of emergencies. Schools today face a variety of threats from fire, flood, hurricane, tornado and other natural disasters to concerns such as intruders on campus and terrorist activity.
The emergency preparedness committee often pre-assigns members of the faculty and staff to various tasks such as search and rescue, triage, and food. The committee will also ensure that the school has adequate materials on hand to carry out the school’s emergency preparedness plan. Materials can include search and rescue supplies, first aid materials, food and water stores, and temporary shelters.
In some schools this committee is also the one which focuses on issues of campus safety including playground matters, field trip safety and so on.
Describe the regular rhythmic activities in your school that support emergency preparedness. For example, if your school conducts regular fire and/or earthquake drills describe their frequency and timing, key aspects and goals of the drill, and the manner in which the drills are assessed to ensure continuously improving performance.
Most schools review their emergency plan and preparations during the spring each year, and make appropriate changes in policy and procedure for the coming year. During the summer the staff assignments to each of the various emergency response teams are updated based on changes in staff at the school. The new procedures and staffing assignments are reviewed with all faculty members at the back to school conference or other meeting at the beginning of the school year.
Many of the rhythmic activities performed in a school are prescribed by state, provincial or local law. It is common for schools to be required to perform a certain number of fire drills, often ten to twelve during the course of a school year. These drills are followed by a review process, either within the emergency preparedness committee or in the larger faculty meeting. Any problems with the drill are noted, and faculty members who have had difficulty with the drill are individually counseled. The dates of the drills and the notes of the review process are kept in a predetermined place, as the fire inspector often has the right to ask for a copy of the drill report during his annual inspection. Some schools supplement the drill report with information about the time the drill started, the time everyone was evacuated from the buildings, the time everyone was accounted for, and an observational narrative.
One school noted that its review process varies according to the type of drill performed:
- Following a mass drill each team gets together and reviews its own performance. Then the team leaders meet as a group and share their observations and recommendations.
- Fire drills are conducted by the school’s operations manager. It is her responsibility to review the drill and to counsel any teachers who had difficulty with its execution.
- Earthquake drills are conducted by the teachers in their classrooms. Following the drill each teacher completes a review form which is then turned in to the operations manager.
In addition to fire drills, schools generally conduct two or three large scale drills each year. Some schools do these drills twice involving only the faculty, and expand the drill to include the students once a year. (The faculty only drills are conducted during the back to school meeting week and again on a Saturday or other pupil free day during the school year.) Schools in areas prone to earthquake often add two earthquake drills a year. Some schools have now added drills called “shelter in place” drills which are held in the case of a chemical hazard.
How are any issues or concerns as a result of the drills or other safety activities communicated to the faculty, staff and Board?
Most issues or concerns that arise from the drills are covered at a faculty or staff meeting or in private counseling sessions if the matter involves a single faculty member. Team leaders also communicate concerns to the members of their teams following a mass drill.
Typically the Board is notified only that the drill was conducted, and only significant issues that need Board attention are called out.
Most schools also send an informational letter to parents at the beginning of the school year outlining the key elements of the school’s emergency plan.
Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy in relation to emergency preparedness.
Caring for the child is our paramount concern, and our emergency document puts the child’s welfare first.
We need to remember that our students are young, and we must present the drills in a way that is realistic but not overwhelming. We want the students to be prepared, but not to leave them frightened by the practice.
Our focus is on incremental improvement. We try to do more each year, and have slowly added to the level of equipment that we have to support us in the case of an emergency.
Our philosophy is to protect the children under our care to the best of our ability without sacrificing our educational mission. The concern for and readiness for helping people in emergencies is an important element of our modeling Waldorf education for the younger generation.
The creation of an emergency management plan forced the school to think about a lot of issues. Yet even with this level of thoroughness there will still be things that a school cannot plan for. A clear chain of command is called for in an emergency situation and there needs to be a shared understanding of how things are going to work. There is not time to call a quick college meeting during an emergency, so the school has recognized the appropriateness of a rigid hierarchical structure at these times.
We are proud of our emergency preparedness plan. Although the state association of independent schools has said that schools should not be expected to have a complicated emergency plan, ours in very thorough and complete. Our school is a distance from the major city where many of our parents work, and it was our feeling that we should be ready to provide an extra level of care in the case of an emergency.
What about your school’s preparation for an emergency is particularly effective?
The school uses an emergency notification system operated by Safe-T-Net. This system allows the school to call a service which then simultaneously transmits a message to parents at home, the office, on two cell phones, and to two email addresses per family.
The school issues an emergency card to parents each year giving the locations for emergency off-site pickup.
Parents can call into a special emergency system. The system allows them to pick up any messages that have been left for them about their children’s health and location, and to leave messages about their own status as well.
We have established a variety of off campus locations for sheltering-in.
In the case of a major disaster the local co-op has agreed to provide food and water to the school for the care of the students and faculty.
The school has a variety of special teams ready to serve when needed. These teams include personnel to perform search and rescue tasks and to provide basic emergency medical care.
We feel that we have identified all reasonable aspects of the various disasters that might affect the school and have created appropriate responses to them.
Our emergency plan lays out a series of sequential tasks, identifies who is responsible for each task, and is clear about who needs to be notified when a given task is completed or cannot be accomplished as expected.
The school has a detailed, well documented plan.
We hold a day long emergency preparedness drill over the summer for the entire faculty and staff.
We have emergency first responders (those who are trained by the Red Cross to respond first in the case of a crisis) who have looked at our procedures and binders and have pointed out things that are not quite up to snuff. We have made appropriate adjustments as a result of this informed feedback.
The school’s emergency binder is very clear and well thought out. It is given to all faculty members and a copy is kept in every classroom. An emergency bag is in each classroom with a copy of the binder, a class list, basic medical supplies, and so on.
We have a mutual agreement with a school nearby so that we have an offsite location where students could be moved if needed.
We have food and water for everyone to sustain them for three days.
If there were something you could change in relation to your school’s level of preparation for an emergency what would it be and why?
We have no way of doing a lock down. We need to spend the money to re-key the school and to put in new locks that would allow a lock down to be performed.
It would be helpful to have an intercom system throughout the school so that people could be kept informed in the case of a lock down.
During a transition period between administrative personnel the emergency response teams were not re-staffed as quickly as they should have been at the start of the school year. This problem has been rectified and the emergency preparedness program is working very well at the school right now.
Once we get to the fourth or fifth fire drill of the school year the teachers and students are pretty good at them. Then we take a hiatus for a few months when the weather is very chilly, and resume the drills in the spring. Students get quite rusty during this time off. We need to find a way to somehow refresh our preparation during this time so that we are ready to safely evacuate in the case of a real emergency.
We wish for greater faculty participation in the entire emergency preparation process, rather than just their participation in the drills.