Revamping School Safety: Are You Prepared?

Guest post by Clint Ross

It’s something you can’t imagine happening at your school. But being properly prepared for a crisis situation—both during the emergency and afterward—is critical in this day and age.

In nearly every state, mandates involving school safety reforms have been attached to school funding. The current state of society makes this a very worthy endeavor, but this undertaking comes with some serious consternation for school districts of all shapes and sizes. Since the 1990s, school safety programs have included canned platforms that were slightly adapted to particular communities, districts, and buildings—at best. Very little thought was given to coordinated efforts that would be necessary in true emergency situations. Unfortunately, as tragic situation after tragic situation has unfolded in communities of all sizes with pupils of all ages, school crisis/active shooter plans have become a key responsibility and focus of many assistant principals.

school safetyIn many urban and suburban settings, the focus of a school crisis/active shooter plan can be centered around law enforcement and emergency responders that are present on campus (or who can be counted upon for immediate response). While this is a great service, planning, coordination, and effective/realistic drill scenarios also need to be conducted.

In such circumstances, the immediate response has usually been well thought out. The situation is certainly chaotic, but it is something that has been drilled. However, the logistics of handling the post-emergency situation are infrequently discussed—and never drilled. These details can become the difference in handling a crisis—either perceived or real—in an efficient manner, especially regarding public perception.

My Experience

As the assistant principal of Lawson High School in Lawson, MO, for the past nine years, one of my duties has been to coordinate and document our school crisis management plan as well as its drills. Two years ago, we completely revised our plan and continue to revamp the plan each year.

As we prepared to redesign our crisis plan in our semi-rural, semi-suburban setting, we had several obstacles to overcome. The biggest hurdle was public perception. When we were to the point of making some of our new plans and security measures public, some stakeholders didn’t like the changes. They were used to coming and going at the school (it’s our community’s most accessible public building) as they saw fit. The new policy took some serious education and adjustment time.

Another important facet of our new plan was the inclusion of local law enforcement and first responders. This seems like such a no brainer, but in the past, the very people who were the most responsible for helping us in crisis situations were kept in the dark. This was an area of focus we set out to change.

From the early planning stages to all subsequent drills (both fire and state-mandated active shooter drills), we sought buy-in, support, and advice from our local authorities. In our case, this was an undertaking. We sit at the junction of three counties, and many times we all look to each other to take action. Other times we all act at once, which is a problem. So we, as the stakeholders in this situation, needed to coordinate the response.

Questions to Ponder

Ask yourself the following questions as a jumping-off point to prepare a detailed crisis situation plan.

  1. What does your internal and external chain of command look like for crisis situations?
  2. Who are the crisis situation team members within your staff, and what are their roles and responsibilities?
  3. What equipment do you have at your disposal?
  4. What facilities do you have nearby that could be used for evacuation points?
  5. Who is in charge when you aren’t (or can no longer be)?
  6. What is your philosophy going to be in active shooter situations? ALICE training? Run-Hide-Fight? Total lock down?

Attached is a table of contents from our school crisis management plan in our first attempt to simplify and map out our changes. (Our final plan has many more details included—this is intended to be food for thought only.)

Now tell me, what plans does your school have in place for crisis management? Please share in the comments below.

Clint Ross is the assistant principal of Lawson High School in Lawson, MO, and the 2016 Missouri Assistant Principal of the Year.

1 Comment

  • Emily says:

    As you mentioned, public perception of the new plan and security changes was a hurdle. Was this a battle just within the school (i.e. the students, and possibly staff, being reluctant to change) or for the entire community? What efforts did your school make to tackle this challenge?

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