Warning: Your School Safety Plan May Fail

Published October 1, 2000

Having a school safety and crisis response plan (SSCRP) in place may not be enough: The plan could be inadequate, or might actually fail upon implementation. How can you know?

Warning signs can be seen at three distinct levels of the response: pre-incident, during the incident, and post-incident.

Pre-incident Warning Signs

  • Your school administrators and key support staff are unaware of the SSCRP or took no part in its development.
  • Your SSCRP is more than one year old and/or is incomplete, meaning it does not include an All Hazards comprehensive mitigation approach.
  • Your key support staff do not have immediate, 24 hours a day, seven days a week access to the SSCRP.
  • Your school does not have a complete and accurate file on each staff member’s address, phone, and emergency contact information.
  • Your key support staff have not been assigned to specific critical incident response roles.
  • Your key support staff are in disagreement as to the incident command structure or the SSCRP protocols.
  • Your key support staff are untrained or in disagreement regarding evacuation, lockdown barricading, and sheltering procedures.
  • Your key support staff have received no training using the SSCRP protocols.
  • Your staff have recently responded unsuccessfully to a school crisis and no corrective action plan has been implemented.
  • Your students and parents are unaware of your SSCRP or are confused about your emergency protocols.
  • Your school administrators have not contacted and reviewed your SSCRP with local emergency management such as fire, police, EMS, Public Health Commission, and Department of Mental Health.

During the Incident Warning Signs

  • Key school staff are confused and conflicted over the chain of command and their specific role.
  • Key staff response times are inadequate.
  • Communications between school staff and first responders (fire, police, etc.) are delayed, incorrect, or incomplete.
  • When first responders arrive on campus, key staff are unable to cooperate and assist with defined tasks.
  • SSCRP action steps are too general and do not mitigate defined dangers of specific incidents (e.g., immediate evacuation of entire student body during bomb threat, which leads children into a forced exit ambush).
  • Classroom-based personnel leave children unattended in the class in an effort to “help out” in the emergency.
  • Pre-designated staging and triage areas are not utilized during the crisis.
  • Media and parent inquiries during the emergency are not coordinated by an appointed school official.
  • Coordinated efforts to reduce eye witness exposure to the impact scene are not implemented.

Post-incident Warning Signs

  • Hospitalization and patient condition notifications are not coordinated by the designated incident manager.
  • Media and parent inquiries are not coordinated by an appointed school official.
  • Coordinated efforts to reduce eye witness exposure to the impact scene(s) are not implemented.
  • Coordination with law enforcement officials to protect the crime scene is not supported.
  • Impact areas are not cleaned and reconstructed in a timely fashion.
  • Standard defusing and debriefing protocols are not employed for staff and students.
  • Referrals to outside agencies for students and staff requiring additional mental health services are not made, or are not made in a timely fashion.
  • Post-incident performance review for all staff involved is not conducted, or is not conducted in a timely fashion.
  • Preparations for anniversary reactions to the critical incident are not implemented.

The above checklists can be used as a quick reference guide for your key support staff as they review not only your current SSCRP, but also past critical incidents your school has been involved in.

Robert Macy is director of community services for the Trauma Center in Boston. He has 20 years’ experience in clinical interventions and academic research in behavioral health, crisis intervention, and traumatic incident management. He can be reached at [email protected] or 800/634-2016.