Tag: school preparedness

School Preparedness Questions for Parents

She’s ready to learn – but is she ready for an emergency?

Every year in August I think about school starting and ask, ”Do I really need to give parents a list of questions about school preparedness?” And every year, because things keep changing, the answer is YES. Lately my list has had to be updated more than once a year!

Here are updated school preparedness questions for Fall, 2021.

These questions are written primarily for elementary school parents, teachers, staff, security and healthcare providers. Of course, every school is unique – not to mention every student! – so we can’t provide guidelines for every single situation.

In particular, we can not address the situation with COVID-19 and public health that is front and center for school children this year.

But we can ask pertinent questions with the hope that all parents will make sure to get the answers that work for their family.

Preparedness questions to ask the school

Caution: School personnel may be hesitant to answer some of these questions. They may not want to share details. They may be uncomfortable with preparedness issues in general. Or given all the changes that are happening, they may simply not know the answers. But remember, if you feel good answers are not forthcoming, stick with it!

Also remember this, too. School staff members may not consider themselves “First Responders,” but when something happens, they are the first ones there. Their actions can keep an emergency from turning in to a disaster. School staff deserves and needs to have the right training and supplies — and support from the district and the community — to do this job.

1 – General school emergency policies.

  1. Does the school have written emergency policies and plans? Have they been updated to account for the Coronavirus? For air quality or other emerging situations?
  2. How do parents find out about the policies?
  3. What about emergency contact forms for each child. How are they distributed? Where kept? How detailed? How often updated?
  4. Who decides on the definition of “emergency?”
  5. How will parents be notified in emergencies? Are all parents notified for each emergency?
  6. What are student pick-up policies? What are alternative pick-up locations if school has been closed? Who can pick up your child if school is shut down? How will they be notified? How will they be identified before child is released? What if your child won’t go with them?

2 – Emergency drills.

  1. Does the school face any particular threats because of its location? (near railroad tracks, busy traffic or airport, environmental hazards from neighboring businesses, potential for earthquake or tsunami, etc.)
  2. How are teachers and students on site notified of an emergency? (site-wide PA system, internal phone system, cellphone app, etc.)
  3. How can teachers advise the office of an emergency?
  4. What emergencies does the school train for other than fire or storm? (Earthquake, tornado, wildfire, active shooter?)
  5. Does the school train for evacuation as well as shelter in place?
  6. What should parents know about how these drills are called and how conducted?
  7. Who does the training and how often?
  8. How are substitute teachers included in these drills?

3 – Emergency supplies and equipment.

  1. What food and water supplies are maintained in the school?
  2. Are supplies kept on school buses?
  3. What food, water and hygiene supplies are in the classroom in case of extended lockdown? (Please see P.S.!)
  4. Are first aid supplies available in each classroom?
  5. What first aid training do staff members get? Do they get age-appropriate training? (For example, CPR for infants and children is different than for adults.)
  6. Where is emergency equipment located? (fire extinguishers, AEDs, wheel chairs, etc.)
  7. Who is trained in equipment use?

4 – Security features.

In recent years, many schools have made changes to their physical infrastructure to provide more security. Parents and students should know what to expect.

  1. Have changes been made in the classroom or on the campus due to the threat of COVID?
  2. Has the school made any changes to the way visitors are allowed onto the campus or into the buildings? What are the policies?
  3. Does the school have security cameras? Are they monitored?
  4. Does the school have a professional security force? How many officers with what credentials, what training and what weapons? Their role?

(By the way, a report from the National Center for Education Statistics can give you an idea of how your school stacks up compared to others when it comes to physical security and crime statistics. The report is updated every year.)

5- Getting back to business as usual.

Sometimes it’s easier to focus on immediate protective actions and overlook what it will take to recover once the event is over. A good school preparedness plan has procedures in place to help parents and students “get back to business as quickly as possible.” (Obviously, after a year of distance or hybrid learning, these procedures may be new for everyone.)

Depending on the age of the students, such activities might include

  • professional and peer counseling
  • student-aided clean-up
  • building safety inspections
  • memorials
  • acknowledging First Responders, etc.

See what plans the school has for such activities and what role the parents are expected to play.

Next steps for parents.

First, share your list of school preparedness questions with other parents. You may want to take the time to expand it with details unique to your school. Next, approach teachers and administrators for answers.

Make sure the answers get out to everyone in the neighborhood! You may want to insist on special presentations on some topics. Guest speakers could be school staff and a member of the police or fire department. You yourself might volunteer to help design and put on parts of the presentation.

You may need to create materials in multiple languages.

Presentations could be held virtually, or on Back to School night, at a PTA meeting, and, of course, in the classroom. Have students videotape the presentation for later showing or showing online, as well.

Working together, schools, students, parents and other community members can keep emergencies from becoming disasters and do the best possible job of protecting students when disasters do occur.

Your Emergency Preparedness Team that naturally includes children!

P.S. Does your school ask that you send an “emergency kit” to school with your student? If so, please read this companion Advisory, also newly updated for 2021: Emergency Kit for School.

Active Shooter Event at Your Business


What are the chances?

A little over two years ago I wrote for the first time about “active shooter events.”  Yesterday I saw in a recent FBI report such events have doubled in the past seven years.

And more than 2/3 of them take place at businesses or schools.

Do you work, or do you know people who work in office settings? Are you a student, or do you know students?

If so, do they know what to do if they suddenly find themselves in the midst of a live shooter event, or even hear shots?

Over in five minutes or less.

Run Hid Fight, Emergency Plan Guide.org

Link to this video below.

Two thirds of active shooter events are over in less than 5 minutes, and one-third are over in less than 2 minutes.

This means If you find yourself in such an event, you have to make QUICK decisions.

Freezing or waffling or screaming are NOT good responses, and in fact may get you killed!

The City of Houston, with the assistance of a Homeland Security Grant, created a training video that is really worth watching. We saw it first at city hall, shown and discussed by our local police department.

The video seems to have become somewhat of a standard for how to respond – and my recommendation today is that you make sure your co-workers have seen it.

The Standard — Run, Hide, Fight: Surviving an active shooter event

 Run, Hide, Fight shows a simulated event taking place in an office setting.  The whole video runs only 6 minutes.

 CAUTION: Although the action is simulated, it contains some intense scenes.  Prepare your audience before showing it.

You can view the video on YouTube at:  http://youtu.be/5VcSwejU2D0?hd=1

The FBI report mentioned above has not gone unchallenged. Criminologist James Alan Fox at Northeastern University in Boston points to the fact that there is no official tracking mechanism for active shooting and mass shooting events. And USA Today’s separate report showed different totals based on their own news sources.

For this Advisory, it doesn’t really matter whether the FBI’s definitions or totals correspond to USA Today’s. What is important is to know how to respond  or even prevent such an event.

Can such events be prevented?

Of course, prevention would be the most desirable option. As someone in a work situation, here are some statistics from the 64 incidents documented by the FBI that should give you pause for thought:

  • All but six of the shooters were male, nearly always acting alone.
  • In about 10% of the incidents, male shooters targeted current and former wives and girlfriends.
  • Other family members were targeted almost as often.
  • Almost all of the shooters had a “real or perceived, deeply held personal grievance.”
  • Shooters were inspired by and copied other attacks.

Are there warnings?

As we have learned, many – although certainly not all – shooters have been identified by family, fellow students or co-workers as exhibiting disturbing behavior well before they go on their killing spree. Even psychologists or other professionals have known of these people’s troubles.

Unfortunately, most people do not say anything for fear of civil lawsuits or for fear of being branded alarmists.

Take a look at your own school or workplace. Are you all watching out for fellow students or co-workers?  Are you aware of some of the most common triggers for violence, such as divorce, financial problems, or other legal issues? Do you have someone to whom you can report unusual or threatening behavior without fear of reprisal?

You may not be able to stop a shooter event. However, you may be able to save lives by making sure everyone knows the survival principles illustrated in Run, Hide, Fight.

The principles aren’t difficult, but having them top of mind could make all the difference.

Share the video!

We are planning to show the video in two weeks as part of our regular neighborhood emergency planning meeting. Some of the audience members will be very senior citizens; it will be interesting to see how they react.  I’ll report on how the showing goes!

And if you show it to your CERT team or your co-workers or classmates, let us know what questions it brings up.  We want to share every good idea we can. Here’s the link to the video again, http://youtu.be/5VcSwejU2D0?hd=1

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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Teacher, Worried About Your Kids’ Safety?


Who takes top honors when it comes to emergency preparedness in the schools?

In September, Save the Children’s annual report card awarded Illinois the “most improved” title.

Disaster Master quizBut Illinois only “won” because the state had experienced tornados – and the old plans for tornado safety didn’t work!

What Illinois schools learned from November 2013 tornados:

  • The principal of Central Intermediate School in Washington, IL, said: “We had areas we thought were safe, but after the tornado, we looked at the debris and we thought, ‘No, we cannot put our kids in certain spaces.’”
  • He also reported that cell phones and even texting worked only sporadically – while there were injured people needing professional help. (Now the school is getting portable radios.)
  • At Washington Community High School, the assistant superintendent reported that “Hallways became wind tunnels, so now instead of shifting students into the hallways, we are moving them into interior rooms without windows.”

Where does your state stand?

The same Harris Poll that showed Illinois’ improvements showed that 21 states don’t even require schools and child care providers to have a basic emergency plan!

What about where you live?

You can head to Save The Children’s website and click on the map of the U.S. to find out what your state requires. (Click on your state, then on the report card to the right.)

Here’s the link to the map:  http://www.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.8777049/k.FE2A/Get_Ready_Get_Safe_US_Preparedness_Map.htm

(This is a very long link. If you can’t get there by clicking, go to www.savethechildren.org and simply type into the search box: “US Preparedness Map”)

Required or not, what can you do to improve your children’s chances?

If preparedness has been on your radar for a while, you are certainly aware of the various government websites that offer checklists and suggestions for family and business preparedness.

When it comes to school preparedness, your state department of education might have some resources, too.

As of today, my number one resource choice for teachers is . . .


This quiz, available at Ready.gov, is fun to take and will be a great starter for a classroom conversation!

You pick the threat and go through a series of questions that train children how to respond.  (Of course, that’s why it’s my favorite. Knowledge is good; being ready to take action is a whole lot better.)

Hint: Be sure to save the secret password for each level to go on to the next.

Here’s the link: http://go.usa.gov/yqC5

As you can see from the illustration above, the quiz characters are modern and you’ll find the cartoon drawings themselves to be professional and compelling.

Please check this out for yourself, and forward this email to any teachers you know. Share it with your PTA or with your home schooling group.

We can never do too much to protect our children, and being charged with doing too little, when the information is readily available . . . well, that’s unthinkable.

Let me know how it works out!



Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. If you missed my earlier Advisory for parents, here is the link again:  https://emergencyplanguide.org/dear-parent/