School safety planning is a complex and often unfamiliar task for many administrators. This guide is designed to simplify the process and to help districts and schools formulate their emergency plans.
Safety planning is crucial to a safe and healthy environment in your schools. Without a plan, students and staff are left vulnerable to natural disasters, fires, shootings, bomb threats, pandemics and other incidents that can occur in a classroom setting.
Develop a Comprehensive Plan
Developing a comprehensive school safety plan is an essential step toward creating safe learning environments. Students and teachers are often exposed to a variety of risks during their education, including natural disasters, fires, pandemics and even violence. In fact, half of all children will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetimes, and these events can be especially devastating at schools where they are expected to develop academically, socially and emotionally. A good school safety plan can mitigate these risks and prepare students, staff and teachers to respond quickly and appropriately in the event of a crisis.
Many states require school districts to develop district-wide school safety plans and provide building-level emergency response plans. These plans are designed to prevent or minimize the effects of serious violent incidents and emergencies through prevention, intervention and emergency management. In addition, a district-wide plan can help coordinate resources between the district and local law enforcement and county emergency response agencies.
The development of a safety plan should begin with the creation of planning teams for each district and school building. These teams should include a mix of administrators, counselors, teachers and support staff. This diverse group will offer a range of skills, knowledge and perspectives that can be helpful as the team begins to create the plan.
A typical school safety plan will include a statement of purpose, a citation of applicable state regulations and local relevant school board policies, a table of contents and an approval statement with dated approval signature(s) as appropriate. The plan should also contain a narrative description of the size and characteristics of the district/building’s student and staff populations as well as information on communication procedures in the event of an emergency.
A school safety plan should also include information on medical emergency response (including an automatic external defibrillator (AED) location), visitor control and security scanning procedures, hazmat and bomb threat procedures as well as general disaster and emergency responses including sheltering in place and lockdowns. Additionally, the plan should establish anonymous tips options for students and staff to report suspected criminal behavior, suicide ideation or signs, bullying, or other safety concerns.
Identify Your Risks
School safety planning is a team effort, involving students, staff and community partners. It’s also a dynamic process with plans regularly reviewed and updated after critical incidents occur. While schools, districts and county offices of education have different responsibilities in the process, most of their responsibilities are interrelated.
Start by identifying the risks in your facility. This can be done through a risk assessment tool that helps you identify and prioritize your risks. There are several available online, including templates that you can download to help guide your assessment.
Once you know the risks in your facility, you can take steps to mitigate them. For example, rusty metals or equipment, fire hazards, loose flooring and broken windows are all common facility risks that can be minimized with regular preventative maintenance and inspections. Identifying and monitoring these risks can help you avoid liability issues in the future.
In addition to identifying facility risks, it’s also important to assess student and behavioral risks. This may include evaluating student behavior, such as bullying or cyberbullying, and looking for signs of suicidal ideation. Developing an anti-bullying policy and making it easy for teachers, students and parents to report bullying or other concerns can help you address these risks.
You should also consider the environmental and weather-related risks that might affect your school. Flooding, tornadoes, severe storms and earthquakes are all possible threats that can be addressed through emergency response procedures. This type of risk can be mitigated by having an active emergency management team that works with local officials to coordinate response efforts and by having a disaster recovery plan in place.
Another area to consider is the risk of information loss. This includes the potential for data to be accessed or stolen by hackers or by insiders. You can reduce this risk by putting controls in place to protect your data and by conducting a risk assessment before making any major changes to your system. By performing a risk assessment, you can also determine whether you need to purchase insurance to cover potential losses. Most insurance policies only cover tangible assets, so it’s a good idea to get an independent review before purchasing any coverage.
Develop a Plan of Action
School safety plans need to be comprehensive enough to cover a variety of possible emergency situations. However, school safety plans also need to be specific enough to address the specific risks that schools face. For example, a plan for a tornado in the Midwest should be different from a plan for a hurricane in Florida. In some cases, districts may even create unique policies and procedures to address local concerns such as gangs, drugs, bullying or weapons.
Once the plan is drafted, it should be shared with all members of the school community to make sure everyone is on the same page about what should be done in the event of an emergency. This will help ensure that all stakeholders can coordinate with local emergency response teams. In addition, the plans should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis to ensure that they are accurate and up to date.
One way to get started is by conducting a tabletop exercise. This will give the team an opportunity to work through a scenario and identify strengths and weaknesses in the school’s preparedness level. The group should then discuss the findings and determine whether additional training or preparation is needed.
Another important aspect of the school safety plan is to include prevention and intervention strategies. This can include everything from a reporting system, security systems in schools to mentorship programs for at-risk students. The plan should also outline the methods by which school staff will be trained to recognize the warning signs of a potential problem, such as violence or suicide.
School safety plans are only effective if they are up to date. Be sure to review your plan at least once each year and update it immediately if changes need to be made. Also, be sure to communicate any changes in the plan with school staff and community members.
Implement the Plan
Many state regulations require schools to develop and carry out safety plans. These regulations can vary by region, with some requiring district-wide plans while others require school-based plans for individual buildings. The specific requirements of the plan can also depend on whether a school is public, private or charter. In New York, for example, schools must have a Comprehensive School Safety Plan (CSSP) and update it every year.
The school-based plan is a document that lists the school’s procedures for dealing with emergencies, such as fires, bomb threats or natural disasters. The school also uses this document to communicate with local first responders and other emergency personnel. The school-based plan can also include strategies for reducing the risk of an emergency or disaster occurring, such as a self-assessment tool and safety training sessions.
To create the school-based plan, you’ll want to put together a team of people with a range of skills, knowledge and perspectives. The team should include administrators as well as teachers, school counselors and support staff. The different perspectives and skills of the members of the team can help ensure that all aspects of the plan are considered.
Once you’ve assembled your team, the next step is to draft the plan. It is important that you give yourself plenty of time to write the plan and to review it with administrators, local emergency response personnel and other school leaders. This will ensure that the plan meets the needs of your district and school building.
You’ll also need to include a section for identifying potential community-based resources that could be used to assist students and their families during an emergency or disaster. You should also include a section for identifying the responsibilities of each school-level staff member. Finally, you’ll need to outline the equipment and materials needed to implement the plan, such as flashlights, first aid kits and communication tools like walkie-talkies or whistles.
Once you’ve completed the plan, you’ll need to make it available to staff and parents. Depending on your state’s regulations, this may include making it available in a variety of formats and languages. You’ll also need to set up a process for reviewing the plan and updating it as necessary.