School Safety Planning: RESPONSE



Prevention | Protection | Mitigation | RESPONSE | Recovery | Rebuilding

In the world of school safety there are six different, yet equally important parts that when holistically applied create an adequate school safety plan to minimally protect America’s children and teachers while physically located on the grounds of their educational environment – and furthermore, accounting for each category of safety planning can assure proper protection against future liability concerns that a school district will face after a life-threat emergency has taken place at your school. As you can see from the information above the six parts for school safety planning are PREVENTION, PROTECTION, MITIGATION, RESPONSE, RECOVERY & REBUILDING. For the purpose of our 4th installment in our series dedicated to SCHOOL SAFETY PLANNING we will be breaking down the response aspect of properly preparing your educational environment for/against the threats that can take place on any campus and at any time.

The term “response” used in this post will be broken down into several different aspects of educational safety: planning and training before an incident arises; teacher/staff/student efficiency during a life-threat emergency; overall decision making from an administrator standpoint before, during and after an emergency has taken place on school grounds.

The current state of preparation for life-threats across the country in the educational realm is fractured and lacking in almost every case we have studied. There are some schools going above and beyond the call of duty to prepare for the worst but as a general rule our country’s educational environments are severely behind the eight-ball as far as school safety preparation and training is concerned.

Why is that?... There is no clear answer for this question, but instead a convoluted set of answers with most parties being unwilling to take responsibility for making the problem of unpreparedness go away:

1.      Educational administrators have been let down by the higher educational systems and ongoing trainings in place across America by neglecting the teaching of courses dedicated to proper safety planning.

2.      Our teachers are to blame for not demanding more protection and preparation in their learning environment.

3.      In part our local law enforcement is to blame because there is insufficient training being done nationally to prepare our sheepdogs in the community with the tools needed and understanding required to help make our schools as safe as possible.

4.      The law makers are partially to blame because of many state’s reluctance to address the issues associated with rising rates in violent crimes in our nation’s schools through proper and forward thinking legislation.

5.      Our parents take in some of the blame because of their unconnected nature of understanding or requesting information as to what is being done, and in place, to guard against violence in their children’s schools.

6.      Security firms and manufacturers are part of the problem as well because of the fact that the bottom dollar often leads away from protecting schools in more layered and defensible ways.

7.      School boards share in the blame by not demanding more funding from their tax payer base to bring their schools up to minimum standards of safety.

8.      Our state’s departments of education and homeland security share in the blame because of their slow moving nature for creating safer learning guidelines and standards.

9.      And finally, I will take responsibility for this issue as well because until now I have not been shouting loudly enough from the rooftops. a general rule our country’s educational environments are severely behind the eight-ball as far as school safety preparation and training is concerned.

In essence, no one in particular is to blame; rather the whole of a community is to blame after a life-threat emergency takes place in our area’s educational environments.  So the next question everyone should be asking themselves at this point is “what can we now do to fix the problem?”

The answer to this question is why OKDI is writing this post, it is why we exist, and the answers to this question is now what we will dive into with the rest of the 4th installment in our School Safety Planning Series dedicated to the RESPONSE piece of the puzzle.

I think we can all agree that we don’t know what we don’t know, but so often that commonsense approach to understanding leaves many in the dark because of an unwillingness to know more and do better. Many public officials, school administrators, parents and everyday citizens are afraid to admit that they don’t know what to do best in the event of an emergency, or how to prepare best for an emergency, partly because they feel not knowing something and admitting it shows weakness or liability; this needs to change and OKDI will do our part to help with the education piece starting in January 2017, when we will hit the road for School Safety Leading Practice training nationally wherever people will have us. This training will consist of each piece of proper school safety planning that is covered in this series and will breakdown in more detail the RESPONSE piece which we will start working through today.

As stated in an earlier part of this post there are several components to the response piece of proper school safety planning:  planning and training before an incident arises; teacher/staff/student efficiency during a life-threat emergency; overall decision making from an administrator standpoint before, during and after an emergency has taken place on school grounds.


PLANNING & TRAINING (before an incident)


-          The planning component should be the most important aspect for keeping schools safe from an administrator’s standpoint. In order to properly plan for an emergency one must first know what emergencies their community will face . The way to start this process as someone in charge of the safety of their school is to print off a copy of your emergency response plan and share it with an officer in your local police department or sheriff’s department in order to get their feedback. I cannot stress enough the importance of collaborating with your local law enforcement during the process of creating an adequate emergency response plan because of the nature of their line of work compared to the nature of an educator’s line of work. Educators were trained to educate and continue their training as educators, whereas law enforcement was trained to protect and to plan for the worse case scenarios that are life-safety related. As an administrator, if you are not involving your local law enforcement in the creation process of an adequate emergency response plan then you have already failed the test of liability in the eyes of the court.

-          As an administrator, if you find you do not have an emergency response plan then it is time to consult with professionals and your local law enforcement to create one. There is entirely too much information that is required within an adequate emergency response plan to go into through this post, however, if you wish to know more just contact us here at OKDI and we will be able to help you out or point you in the direction of quality assisstance in your area.

-          In your plan there should be protocols and procedures for how everyone in your school will act and operate during many different types of emergencies. One suggestion is that you should start incorporating regular active-killer drills into your school year like you have fire drills. Remember: Failure to plan and execute is failure on the part of the leadership, not those being lead.

-          The only way to know what parts of your planning are inadequate is to start by breaking down the plan in full and asking yourself whether you understand why you’re doing something in particular as a counter to the threat in question – if your answer is uncertain then you need to update your plans or ask questions until you feel satiated by the answers.

...I cannot stress enough the importance of collaborating with your local law enforcement during the process of creating an adequate emergency response plan...


-          Once the planning phase is underway and/or completed it stands to reason that your school will need to put some added tools into place in order to make those plans have merit and functionality. OKDI recommends bringing in trained school safety professionals (many of which are within your local law enforcement ranks) to train your educators, staff and students on what to do best for each life-threat emergency. We know the fire piece is taken care of through years of creation/implementation/evolution of layered fire code which demands regular fire drills, but what about an active-killer situation or other aspects of life-threat emergencies like toxic gas movement or bomb threats? What should your school do if someone comes to your front doors armed for violence? What should your school do if someone commits suicide on school grounds? What should your school do if someone brings a gun to school or worse yet decides to take it out of concealment once already inside your school?

-          The first thing to understand is that not all trainings and/or trainers are created equal. As a rule of thumb, if the safety training you pursue does not involve allowing your local law enforcement into the building during the training then it is not something you should be paying for.

-          If a training you purchase comes without references and accreditation from viable sources then I would not recommend purchasing it. If the person coming in to do your training has not demonstrated a mastery of his/her subject through a valid screening process of their experience then I would steer clear. If a trainer and/or training will not submit their training to you ahead of time with a written outline of understanding and principals then I would recommend staying away from that person or training. Most of the time, but not always, the best trainings and trainers are men and women who have been, or currently are, members of law enforcement.

-          Always remember, whatever training you bring onto your campus you will inevitably be using as the basis for response to an emergency once it arises in your school. So, in order to get the most bang for your buck be sure that the drills created by the training continue to be drilled throughout the year (even if just by the faculty and staff) in an attempt to provide proper readiness in the event that the training ever becomes real-life necessary.

-          As an administrator it is recommended that you should conduct at least two campus wide active-killer drills per year (with at least one in conjuction with local law enforcement response) in order to find better ways of protecting your school and to provide adequate refreshers for your students and staff in the event the training should ever have to go live in a real life-threat emergency.

*Author’s Note: in order to properly prepare for an emergency and execute the corresponding training during the emergency you have to drill it. Many people in the academic world and even some parents will try to convince you that preparing for an emergency will cause unneeded fear and panic from the students inside of the learning environment; however, this could not be further from the truth (age limits required). If you as an administrator buy into the thought process that training for the worst will cause fear in your students, and because of that choose not to train regularly in your school, you will cause unneeded panic and loss of life if a life-threat emergency ever touches down on your school grounds. As athletes we’re told to practice like we’re going to play. This practice often includes watching film of the visiting opponent despite how much better or worse they might be than the home team, and consequently scout teams are created to simulate the visiting team’s tactics in order to practice against them; does this cause fear and panic in the athletes watching the film or added preparation come game time? The same rule applies to practicing for life-threat emergencies... you will play like you practice. 


TEACHER/STAFF/STUDENT EFFICIENCY (during a life-threat emergency)


-          In every emergency the teachers are the first line of defense and protection for the children under their watch and care. In stands to reason that in training for emergencies the educators will have different roles than the administrators or staff, and in knowing that it will be as important to hold them to these standards of practice while conducting regular safety drills as you would regular fire drills - If a teacher does not take the life-safety training and their drills seriously then they will be paralyzed when an actual event takes place at your school and the students will not be as safe as they should be.

-          Every educator should know the response protocols for every emergency that could take place during the school day, and if they don’t this needs to become required knowledge for every educator represented under your roof.


-          The support staff within a school whether they be the principals, greeters, secretaries, librarians, the custodians, the counselors or coaches should all have different and layered responsibilities during a life-threat emergency response protocol.

-          In most cases the staff will be the ones moving freely throughout the educational environment on a regular basis, and in knowing that it becomes vitally important that they are well versed in their respective duties thoroughly at any time they’re asked.

-          The support staff within a school might be the first person responsible for reporting a threat – do you have protocols in place for this happening?

-          Seeing as most support staff is housed in a singular office or open office setting, does your staff have places of refuge during an emergency? Do they have overlapping duties in case the response protocols break down during an emergency? Do they know how to communicate effectively to teachers and students what needs to be done during an emergency? Is your staff quizzing the educators and students regularly about what to do if something “bad” happens? If they’re not doing this, why not be doing this? 


-          It is important that the students within a learning environment understand what their duties are during a life-threat emergency, but only after the faculty and staff have a complete understanding of their part to play. Chaos breeds chaos, so until your teachers know their roles to play then don’t bring your students into the mix of regular training. However, once you feel confident in your educators and staff and begin drilling with your students it becomes vitally important that your students know why they’re performing certain duties and taking certain precautions during a lock-down drill or real-life scenario.

*Author’s Note: There are trainings throughout America that work directly with students, faculty and staff to bring light onto what options each party has during a life-threat emergency. If your school decides to train the student populous on how to run, fight or hide during an emergency, be sure to have your teachers and staff trained first before entertaining the thought of teaching kids about what their options are.  In many instances it has come down to quick decision making by students, teachers and staff for whether a school remains safe during an emergency or becomes fully vulnerable to further violence – preparation breeds competency, competency doesn’t just happen without practice.

If you as an administrator buy into the thought process that training for the worst will cause fear in your students, and because of that choose not to train regularly in your school, you will cause unneeded panic and loss of life if a life-threat emergency ever touches down on your school grounds.


ADMINISTRATOR DECISION MAKING (before, during & after)


-          The buck stops with you as an administrator, meaning, you are ultimately responsible for instituting regular trainings and safety protocols in your school. A good question to regularly be asking yourself as an administrator is “do I know what to do when the unthinkable happens?” If you ask yourself this question and you don’t know then find out immediately. Once you feel confident in your ability to answer this question without hesitation then begin asking your leadership team to do the same. Once your leadership team knows their role and your role as the key administrator in your building then start the ownership process down throughout the educator and student populous.

-          In your regular faculty and staff meetings it is recommended that you take 5 minutes at the beginning or end of each meeting to quiz those involved about what to do in different life-threat scenarios. By no means do you need to be an expert in school safety, but if an event happens in your school and you could have done better as the leadership in the emergency I can guarantee that you will have wished you spent 10 minutes a week discussing school safety beforehand, and so will your legal counsel.


-          Once the life-threat emergency is underway your previous training is all you can rely on. IF you have trained properly then follow your training so as not to confuse the school populous. If you have not trained proficiently before an incident happens and you find yourself in the middle of an emergency, it’s too late to act as a unit and you will need to brace yourself for chaos.

-          Depending on the school district the key administrators will play different roles to lessen the severity of an emergency, so just know your role to play no matter the scenario.

-          If you have access to a phone during an emergency it will be important that you stay connected to “911” as long as you can and clearly state that you are the key administrator in charge of the building. You need to do this so you can play as the point person for the duration of the event.


-          Once a life-threat emergency has come to its conclusion you will need to go into recovery mode ASAP. Do you know how you will communicate to educators in your building that the “all clear” is in effect? Do you know how you will communicate with bus drivers, parents and the press immediately following an emergency happening on your school grounds?

*Author’s Note: all of this information is meant to serve as points to ponder and work through in order to create the best action plan as possible. As an administrator if you are not able to communicate your safety protocols effectively before something bad happens then you will not know how to communicate effectively during and after an event has taken place.

 This information is meant to be a refresher for educational folks who have the responsibility for students during the school day. Whether you are overwhelmed by this material or have taken the proper steps to create adequate school safety plans, OKDI asks you to take into consideration everything you have read throughout this document on RESPONSE as part of your overall school safety planning. In the next post we will breakdown the final pieces in school safety planning: Recovery & Rebuilding.

I implore you all to remember one very important piece of information about school safety planning with respect to response: planning is important, planning for every life-threat emergency is paramount, but failure to perform regular checks and balances (drills included) of those plans will lead to disaster should terror ever come knocking at your school's main entrance. 

Stay Safe, America!

Author:  Mason Wooldridge  National School Safety Expert  Co-Founder of Our Kids Deserve It


Mason Wooldridge

National School Safety Expert

Co-Founder of Our Kids Deserve It

Jessica CirulliComment