Back to School Emergency Checklists


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Safe at School Ready for the first day of school?

Every year new students wait eagerly for that first day of school. And often in the background, proud yet nervous parents hope their child will flourish in this new environment.

Many parents have already “done their homework” on what will be necessary for their child’s success. Parents and children have shopped for school supplies and probably some new clothes, too. Older students have invested in everything from electronics to sheets and bedspreads.

Everything is ready! Or is it?

What about being ready for an emergency at school? Are the children prepared? Are parents prepared?

If you’re a parent, use these questions to put the finishing touches on back-to-school preparations for your student.

Grade-school Parent Checklist

While there are no national guidelines for emergency preparedness for schools, you can find out your child’s schools procedures. You may need to be persistent to get answers to these basic questions:

  1. Threats. What emergencies does the school prepare for? (fire, natural disasters, active shooter?)
  2. Supplies. What emergency equipment is available for teachers, and have they been trained on it? (fire extinguishers, first aid kits, emergency lighting, lockdown safety kits?) Are several days’ survival supplies (food, water, blankets) for kids and faculty stored at the school?
  3. Student Practice. What emergency response procedures do students practice? (evacuation, lock down/secure school, shelter in place?) How often?
  4. Communications. What communications can you as parent expect in case of an emergency at school? (a phone call or text? notice on public radio or TV? a written follow-up report?)
  5. Parent Responsibilities. What does the school expect of parents? (list of emergency authorized caregivers/family members, provide emergency supplies for child?)

What if your persistent questions are not answered?

Worse, what if you realize that there are no answers to some of these questions at the school your child attends?

Step up and take a leadership role.

You can help improve the situation. Join the PTA. Get a copy of the 2013 Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans and, with a committee, put together recommendations for necessary changes based on your own location, size of school, etc. Present your recommendations to your school administration along with whatever publicity is appropriate.

The Guide is available for download here:   https://rems.ed.gov/docs/REMS_K-12_Guide_508.pdf and may also be available for purchase at Barnes & Noble. While the Guide was written by a number of government agencies (FEMA, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Federal Emergency Management) it is perfectly readable!

(I add this exclamation point because some similar documents are NOT readable by the average person, even ones as dedicated as I am!)

As you might expect, the Guide introduces the standardized “vocabulary” used by professional emergency planners everywhere, concepts such as Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response and Recovery.

It also includes a discussion of privacy issues and the need to plan for disabled people.

The list of “emergencies” in the Guide needs to be updated, once again. In 2013 “active shooter” was added to the list of threats. Now, given developments in North Korea, Hawaii is formally adding “How to Respond to a Nuclear Disaster” to its emergency response plans!

College Campus Checklist

Every school will be different in the way it handles emergency preparedness. As a parent of a student or prospective student, you can help make sure the self-reliance you’ve encouraged at home will continue when your student is away at college.

Up until now your student may have counted on you for direction. Now that responsibility has shifted.

In working together to get answers to the following questions you’ll get the process started.

  1. Threats. What emergencies does the school prepare for? If your new school is in a totally different part of the country, the experiences you’ve had with natural disasters, for example, may be irrelevant. What NEW or DIFFERENT threats exist at this campus?

    UC Berkeley’s Office of Energy Management website starts with this eye-opener: “All campuses have their faults. Ours is 74 miles long and runs directly under our campus . . .!”

  2. Procedures. Who are the planners and the actual Responders on campus? It’s usually easy to find details on the campus website. (Check out Berkeley’s for example.) Read about security procedures, emergency operations, etc. Are all emergency plans only for administration and faculty? What role does the campus envision for students – do they get any training?
  3. Student Responsibilities. On nearly every campus students are expected at registration to connect with all emergency communications methods. This usually means providing emergency contact information (text, phone numbers, emails) and signing up for an alert service.
  4. Campus Resources. In addition to the emergency alert system, your campus may use sirens or loudspeakers to issue warnings. It may have a campus emergency website, emergency radio station and/or toll-free emergency information lines. Know when and how to use all these resources! Incidentally, it’s possible that the 911 number you’ve always considered as “your” emergency number may not be the best one on campus. Find out about special campus emergency numbers. Store all this info in your phone.
  5. Parent Responsibilities. As an adult, your student will be expected to make his or her own decisions in an emergency. Encourage your student to learn about evacuation routes, understand the definition of “shelter-in-place,” and to maintain at least a minimal survival kit. Some first aid knowledge helps, too. (Here’s an Advisory with more about survival at college, with particular emphasis on personal safety.) Of course, parents can probably access campus emergency websites or toll-free numbers, too, for up-to-date info when something happens.

As always, it’s the people closest to you — roommates, people on your floor — who will be there when the emergency happens. They are the ones who may need help — or will be able to help YOU. Building a strong team around you is the best thing you can do for your safety! 

Action Item: If your children aren’t quite ready for school, or are long past that stage, please pass this Advisory on to someone whose children are of school age.

Being ready for the school year happens to someone new every year!

Virginia 
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. One of our readers sent us his school’s “Emergency Information” publication delivered to all parents. It was crammed with good information — but unfortunately, “crammed” was the operational term. If you get something like that from your school, attack it one page at a time. There are sure to be good ideas hidden in there. Then share them with us!

P.P.S. This week the National Fire Protection Association came out with these pertinent statistics for college students:

 Firefighters respond to 11 dorm fires a day, and 86% of them are related to cooking!

If your college-aged kid is considering a hot plate or a microwave (legal, of course), at least review some safety measures. And don’t forget a Kitchen-sized Fire Extinguisher! (I own this one and like how it fits in because it’s white.)

 

 

 

 

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