As a mother of two teenagers, I look forward to the end of summer and the beginning of a new academic year. Don’t judge me, we all secretly look forward to a sense of normalcy after a long summer, to the end of siblings’ arguments, reduced grocery bills and to be able to focus on a task at hand without hearing “I’m bored”. I shamelessly declare that after the first week of the new academic year I can claim my routine and “life” back, and I know lots of parents feel the same way. It’s the truth!
However, it is also truth that as an emergency manager I worry about school preparedness. Now that my daughter is beginning her sophomore year of college (300 miles away from home), I also worry about campus safety and campus preparedness. It is my nature as a mother but also part of my lifestyle as emergency manager and preparedness consultant.
Recently, I found the opportunity to take an active role in the safety of my son during school hours (and another 3,000 students) by contributing to his school’s emergency preparedness and response efforts. What a blessing! I could ensure safety protocols; emergency plans and operations aren’t just a bunch of words in a document somewhere or a binder.
Although it is not official yet, I am writing down the recommendations I would like to offer to all parents with no emergency management experience. I am certain that these recommendations will help them take an active role in their children’s safety without impeding or interfering with school safety procedures.
- Learn more about school’s safety and emergency plans.
Over the years I’ve found that most of the parents have no idea about school safety procedures, and when everything is ok, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, when a crisis arises, those parents are the ones overwhelming phone lines, showing up unannounced at school, expecting their children to be released, even if that means altering protocols or impeding school officials to manage the crisis. Those parents create a crisis within a crisis.
Throughout the years, as a mother I learned that sometimes the best way to ensure your child’s safety is by not interfere with established plans or protocols. With that said, I recommend all parents to learn more about school preparedness and emergency management procedures. As you learn more you will realize that your child’s safety is a priority and please do not interfere. Your child’s safety and the safety of probably hundreds of other children depend on the integrity and effectiveness of those procedures that have been tested and proven.
- As a parent, you have the right to know, make a beneficial use of the information.
Once you have information regarding emergency / crisis protocols, help the school by reviewing procedures and practicing with your child. Once you learn how emergencies will be handled, it is recommended to practice with your child or at least review the steps with them at home. It is always useful to remind the student that teachers and school officials have procedures in place and that they will lead.
The student should never fear of following school officials’ instructions during a crisis or event, affirm that authority at home. For teachers or staff members become a problem when a child doesn’t want to follow instructions. Practice with them, frequent practice helps them act with certainty when needed, reminds them they can do it, and help them overcome fear. Don’t make it a stressful drill, just practice it as a normal situation that can happen anytime.
- Some disasters can be predicted, while others cannot; however, plans are in place for both scenarios.
This is one of the reasons why drills and practice scenarios are so important. By practicing different scenarios your child, the staff and even yourself will be more comfortable when the real crisis or emergency arises. Identify the events with the highest probability and practice.
For those events that cannot be predicted, it is important to teach your children situational awareness, to recognize warning signs and to report unusual behaviors. It is through awareness and reporting that we can increase prevention measures and better prepare in the event of a violent threat to the school, staff, and students.
There are two key issues in terms of emergency preparedness and management: communication issues and response time. Both obstacles can be eliminated or at least minimized if we all know ahead what to do, and practice. Learn more about the institution’s plans and practice at home with your children, these two steps will improve communication, response and recovery from any crisis or event.
I hope these recommendations help you. Feel free to email me if you want more information or have questions.