Tag: school

School Preparedness Questions for Parents – 2022


This will be my 7th year as an elementary school crossing guard. Here I am in the crosswalk on a rare drizzly day in 2019 – fluorescent suit (“one size fits all”), red stop sign (“Hold it up HIGH!”) and whistle. Big grin.

But today, in 2022, things look a little different. These days I carry an electronic pushbutton whistle because you can’t blow a whistle while wearing a mask. With so much school time lost because of the pandemic, our school is starting two weeks earlier — at the height of the summer heat. And this year, on our first day of school, every parent and teacher will still be reeling from the terrible school shooting in Uvalde.

These school preparedness questions are updated for 2022.

These are questions primarily for parents, but if you are in any way connected with schools or students, school security or health care, you’ll want to take a look.

In fact, after you’ve read the whole Advisory, you’ll see a link to a one-page summary of the key questions. It’s meant for you to download. Take it to school. Forward it to a friend who has children. We all need a better grasp of these issues.

Get answers to these preparedness questions from your school

I recently watched a video about our district’s School Safety Plan. It was a 2-hour presentation featuring school staff, local police and fire department representatives. It focused on what they called the threat of a “violent intruder.” Even after 7 years on the street out front, talking with parents, kids, teachers and the occasional police officer, I was amazed at how little I knew about how my school operates behind the scenes.

Of course, every school district and school is unique, so you may not have the opportunity to hear about your own local school’s safety plan.

Moreover, school or law enforcement personnel may be hesitant to answer your direct questions. They may not want to share details, they may be uncomfortable with preparedness issues in general, or they may simply not know the answers.

Still, these are your kids. Your taxes pay for schools and staff. If you feel good answers to your preparedness questions are not forthcoming, don’t be intimidated. Patience and persistence will pay off.

General school emergency policies.

  1. Policies. How do parents find out about emergency policies? Are materials available in different languages?
  2. Emergency contact forms for each child. How distributed? Where kept, under what security? How detailed? How often updated?
  3. Emergency communications. How will parents be notified in emergencies? (As crossing guard I made sure I am on the list to get emergency notifications, too.)
  4. 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 your child is released? What if your child won’t go with them?

Emergency drills.

  1. Does the school face any particular threats because of its location? (near railroad tracks or airport, environmental hazards from industry, flood plain, wild animals, etc.)
  2. What trainings does the school hold? Does the school train for any emergencies other than fire or severe weather? (Earthquake, tornado, wildfire, bomb threat, active shooter?)
  3. Does the school train for evacuation as well as shelter in place?
  4. What should parents know about how these drills are called and how conducted?
  5. Who holds the training and how often? Are results of the drills evaluated and shared?
  6. Who is included in the drills? Substitute teachers, maintenance staff and bus drivers?

Emergency supplies and equipment.

  1. What food and water supplies are maintained in the school? How often refreshed?
  2. Do school busses carry any supplies?
  3. What food, water and hygiene supplies are in the classroom in case of extended lockdown?
  4. Where are first aid supplies located?  Do staff members get first aid training? Again, what about bus drivers?
  5. What emergency equipment is available? (fire extinguishers, AEDs, wheel chairs, etc.)
  6. Who is trained in equipment use?

Security features.

In recent years, many schools have made changes to provide more physical security. These questions cover some of the changes that can be considered or implemented. School budgets may limit making any of these changes. In some cases, these ideas may simply be inappropriate. But asking questions can lead to productive discussion. (Want more in-depth information on any of these features? Take a look at Security Magazine.)

  1. Does the school’s emergency communications system include direct connections to other classrooms? To law enforcement and/or emergency services? To other schools?
  2. Does the school have a trained Resource Officer? Is that officer always on the premises? Is the officer armed?
  3. Does the school have security cameras? Are they monitored? By whom?
  4. What about audio sensors to detect aggressive voices, gunshots, calls for help?
  5. Has the school made any changes to the way visitors are allowed onto the campus or into the buildings? (Open campus or one controlled entrance? Fences? ID badges?)
  6. What policies are in place regarding locked or locking doors? Who made these policies? How well are policies followed?

Getting back to business as usual after an incident.

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 preparedness plan will have procedures in place to help parents and students “get back to business as quickly as possible.”  We are learning, of course, that overcoming the trauma of a violent school disaster takes months if not years. We touched on that topic last week in our Advisory about gun violence.

Next steps for parents

List of emergency preparedness questions for parents

Share your list of questions with other parents and approach teachers and administrators for answers. Download and print this convenient one-page summary of School Preparedness Questions.

You may want to insist on special presentations on these emergency topics. Guest speakers could be school staff and a member of the police or fire department. You might volunteer to help design and put on parts of the presentation, yourself.

Presentations could be held on Back to School night, at a PTA meeting, and, of course, in the classroom. A presentation could be videotaped 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 Plan Guide team

P.S. This list of “Preparedness Questions for Parents” deals primarily with the school. I am updating my list of “Preparedness Questions for Parents about Their Own Children.”  Watch for it coming soon!

Dear Parent


Dear Parent,

Welcome to another exciting school year. Before we allow your child to come to school, we need to know that s/he knows what to do in an emergency.

We don’t have time to fit this information into the regular school curriculum. So if your child is to have a good chance of survival, it’s up to you.

Please sign and return this note so we know your child is properly prepared.

Sincerely,  Your School Administrator


Wow! What if you got this letter from YOUR child’s school? How would you react?

I bet you’d have . . .

Questions for that “School Administrator!”

Here are a few of them:

1. What should my child know about responding to an emergency at school?

2. What emergencies are we talking about?

3. What plans does the school have for protecting my child?

4. Has my child’s teacher received disaster training?

5. What do you expect of me if an emergency happens during the school day?

The sad truth is, many parents do NOT know the answers to these questions. And I wonder, how many school administrators could answer for their school and their teachers?! it’s worth some effort to find out more.

I was inspired to write this post by three things.

School Emergency Planning• My friend Russell sent me a copy of a booklet passed out at his kids’ school. You’ll see it in the picture. It is packed with valuable information, pulled from a variety of sources. Because it IS so packed, though, no child would ever start reading it. Even a parent would be hard pressed to get through it. The booklet could answer questions 1 and 2 above.

• For the past six weeks, the LinkedIn Group that I participate in has been discussing disaster preparedness in the schools. These are professional trainers and consultants. Their reluctant conclusion? With rare exceptions, schools ignore basic survival skills for students. Some schools would be able to answer questions 3 & 4 above.

• Are schools required to be able to answer our questions? In June 2013 the White House released a guide  for developing emergency operations plans for elementary schools. The guide “incorporates lessons learned from recent incidents, and responds to the needs and concerns voiced by stakeholders following the recent shootings in Newtown and Oak Creek and the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma.”

Here in California, other resources are available through the State Department of Education. As far as requirements, all I could find is that regular fire and earthquake drills are mandatory. Still, a school that takes advantage of the guides and resources mentioned would, in fact, be able to answer all the questions above.

So where does YOUR kid’s school fit? Which of the questions can your school answer? Which CAN’T it answer?

It’s September. Back to School Month PLUS National Preparedness Month. Could there be any better time to find out more?


Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


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