Emergency Preparedness in Schools: How to Prevent, Prepare, Respond and Recover in the Face of Emergencies and Disasters

Schools across the country face the threat of emergencies and disasters. An ideal world would ensure these events do not strike schools, but that is impossible. Earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and even active shooter events can turn the learning environment into a nightmare for children. The Facility Manager and school board need to work together to develop a plan for emergency preparedness in schools.

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Challenges in Emergency Preparedness in Schools

A primary challenge in emergency preparedness in schools derives from the vast types of emergencies that may develop. On the West Coast, the threat of an earthquake is higher. The central plains have a higher risk of tornadoes, and coastal cities in all parts of the country face the threat of hurricanes and more. The diversity of emergency and disasters creates an environment where planning for all types of events is essential to reducing their impact.

The primary problem--not all emergencies can be prevented in schools, namely weather-related disasters.

 ADT just released an interactive disaster risk map that calculates the risk natural threats pose across the US - check out what exposure to natural hazards your area has.

Emergency Preparedness in Schools Reduces Losses and Keeps Children Safe

Natural disasters are impossible to prevent, but schools can take steps to avoid human-made emergencies. This may come in the form of better school security, improved structural integrity, and planning for emergencies.

A comprehensive plan for emergency preparedness in schools should consider the specific types of emergencies and disasters that a given school may face for its region, explains AccreditedSchoolsOnline.com. Since planning for emergencies means setting a preparedness and recovery budget before the event occurs, schools may opt to work with an on-site energy specialist to ensure all needs are addressed.

Of course, the superintendent will be extremely busy working to keep building occupants safe and prevent undue damage when a storm is on the way. Therefore, knowing when to step back and be a back-stop to offer assistance is one of the key ways Cenergistic can help.

How to Respond and Recover

A school Facility Manager’s priority in responding to and recovering for any emergency should be planning for it well in advance of the occurrence of the event. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), schools should draft and update existing plans, conduct vulnerability assessments and minimize the disruption caused by emergencies. In other words, school Facility Managers should follow these best practices in developing, responding to and recovering from emergencies.

Before an Emergency Occurs

  1. Develop a written plan for the threat of emergencies. This plan should specify the types of risks to a school, their likelihood of occurrence and actions to take when a warning is issued.
  2. Create an emergency supply kit. The emergency supply kit is the next phase of ensuring continuity; it should include medical supplies, food and water for children and staff until rescuers arrive. Schools should also have multiple emergency supply kits throughout the building.
  3. Educate staff and students on emergency plans. While children may not understand the state of emergencies, staff should know how to respond with age-appropriate instructions and encourage proper evacuation protocols. Such programs should include conducting drills and practicing evacuation on a frequent basis. A good rule of thumb is to conduct at least one exercise every six-week period.

When an Emergency Event Strikes

  1. Assess the threat, if possible. Weather-related emergencies, such as unusually severe weather and hurricanes, may allow some planning time as schools will know the path of the storm. School officials should assess the risk and determine the best course of action.
  2. Evacuate or take cover. If there is no time for evacuation, the next step will be taking cover. Most importantly, all personnel should stay calm to reduce stress on children.
  3. Address health and medical needs when it is safe to do so. For long-duration emergencies, like tropical storms, focus on maintaining health and safety. This may include ensuring proper use of generators to conserve power.

Once the Event Passes

  1. Assess the integrity of the building. While a full-scale assessment won’t be immediately possible, conduct a quick sweep of the facility to identify potential danger areas, like walls that appear on the verge of collapse and injuries.
  2. Check all students for injuries and needs. All injuries should be addressed as quickly as possible, contact the school nurse or EMS as needed.
  3. Evacuate students from damaged areas. Student safety is the priority. Begin immediate evacuations or relocation to a safer part of the facility.
  4. Contact parents or guardians. Although many students may have a smartphone to contact parents, staff should still contact parents as necessary. This a key aspect of emergency preparedness planning and notification systems. For instance, an automated system can generate alerts to notify parents of an impending occurrence of an emergency.
  5. Only re-enter a building if the disaster recovery professionals have deemed it safe for building occupants. Following an event, even on-site personnel may not be allowed back into the building to prevent liability and let professional experts, e.g. ServPro, assess the building’s condition and ensure safety.
  6. Learn from what went wrong. The best-laid plans may still suffer setbacks when faced with an actual emergency. School officials should take stock of pain points experienced in the response and focus on how to improve planning for the future.

Recovery

Recovery processes can be extensive, including temporary relocation, restoration of power, water-damage rehabilitation, mold remediation and much more. The severity and type of event will determine next steps in recovery. This is why many schools opt for third-party recovery management, such as working with ServPro.

Create Your Emergency Response Plan Now

The worst time to plan for emergency preparedness in school is when the emergency is imminent. Schools that take time to prepare and reduce the loss of life improve education continuity and keep BUI, safe and healthy. Kick start your preparedness plan and recovery efforts by partnering with Cenergistic. Our team of engineers will quickly get school facilities back online as well as provide to support recovery efforts. Visit Cenergistic online or call 1-855-798-7779 to get started.

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