Emergency preparedness in schools is a sensitive topic since the advent of school shootings. We want our children and community to be prepared, but what are the potential costs.
When some of us were young that safety plan was mainly fire drills. However, in today’s world, schools must prepare for worst-case scenarios. It would be negligent not to.
The Roaring Fork School District (RFSD) has prepared an emergency and crisis information guide for parents. It includes protocols for all-school drills, and the procedure for communications to families.
Roaring Fork Schools conduct all-school drills each school year. They consist of four types of drills: 1) shelter; 2) evacuation; 3) lockout; and 4) lockdown.
Shelter, sometimes referred to as shelter-in-place, is taking shelter in a safe place within the school, rather than evacuating the area. An evacuation involves moving students to a safer location outside of the school building. A lockout refers to a hazard or threat outside the building and consists of securing the school perimeter and controlling access to the school.
A lockdown takes place when there is a potential threat to the school. That threat may be taking place outside of the school, as for example, an armed suspect being sought by police in the neighborhood.
Procedures may involve a teacher assessing the threat and choosing to evacuate the school. Under other conditions, teachers will lock down a classroom. In a locked classroom scenario, lights will be turned off, and students will stay quiet and out of sight. Doors remain locked until law enforcement or administrative personnel provide evacuation instructions.
Jeff Gatlin, the RFSD’s chief operating officer, is also in charge of the district’s emergency and crisis preparedness plan. Several community stakeholders are involved in the process, as Gatlin explained, “We partner with local police, fire, and sheriff’s departments in planning efforts, and collaborate regularly with these agencies to share information, plan for situations that may arise, and streamline communication efforts.”
Gatlin said when instructions are given to students, they “differentiate messaging to make it as grade/school specific and relevant as possible.” Age-appropriate instruction ensures students will better understand what is happening and what is expected of them.
The secure nature of information about drills was reinforced, as Gatlin stated, “Schools do not communicate specific details about a drill, including the type or date of a drill, as it could compromise safety.”
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) website (www.nasponline.org) states, “While school shootings are rare, perception of risk is high. For decades schools have engaged in actions designed to prevent, prepare for, and respond to safety threats.”
With that reality, students and school staff may face a new set of potential problems from these drills, including anxiety, stress, and in more severe cases, traumatic symptoms.
Gatlin has heard from parents about the importance of drills. He explained, “Parents expressed that they believe drills are the best way to keep our students and staff safe.” He also said that should a student or staff have any psychological difficulties as a result of a drill there are resources to meet those needs. As Gatlin stated, “We always share resources and staff supports for those students or staff members who need extra mental health support.”
Think of the drills from the perspective that students can practice movements so they will respond more quickly and effectively in a real-life emergency.
Katherine Cowan, NASP’s communications director, said, “Drills should be skills-building.” She added, “The effective approach is that communications are delivered in an informal and straight-forward way.”
Cowan also noted the media bears the responsibility of “balance in the language” and presenting factual information in a measured tone to the public.
Franci Crepeau-Hobson, Ph.D., is the co-chair of NASP’s School Safety and Crisis Response Committee and a member of the Colorado Society of School Psychologists (CSSP) crisis response team. She said extensive media coverage has left people with the impression that school shootings are commonplace.
“Locking down doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem as long as it’s done right and people are trained and practice and they’re prepared for it.” Crepeau-Hobson added, “A traditional lockdown keeps kids safe.”