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Be Prepared

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Emergency and Evacuation Planning Guide for Schools

Responding to a Crisis

A crisis can happen at any time, anywhere. Effective and safe schools are well prepared for any potential crisis. Crisis response is an important component of an emergency preparedness and risk communication plan. Two components that should be addressed in that plan are:

  • Intervening during a crisis to ensure safety.
  • Responding in the aftermath of tragedy.


In addition to establishing a plan, schools should provide adequate preparation for their core response team. The team not only plans what to do when a crisis occurs, but it also ensures that staff and students know how to behave. Students and staff feel secure because there is a well-conceived plan and everyone understands what to do or whom to ask for instructions.

Principles Underlying Crisis Response

As with other interventions, crisis intervention planning is built on a foundation that is safe and responsive to children. Crisis planning should include:

  • Training for teachers and staff in a range of skills-from dealing with classroom situations to responding to a serious crisis.
  • Reference to district or state procedures. Many states now have recommended crisis intervention manuals available to their local education agencies and schools.
  • Involvement of community agencies, including police, fire, and rescue, as well as hospital, health, social welfare and mental health services. The faith-based community, juvenile justice and related family support systems also have been successfully included in such team plans.
  • Conditions for the core team to meet regularly to identify situations that may be dangerous.


School communities also should make a point to find out about federal, state and local resources that are available to help during and after a crisis, and to secure their support and involvement before a crisis occurs.

Intervening During a Crisis to Ensure Safety

Bomb threats or explosions, as well as natural disasters and accidents call for immediate, planned action, and long-term, post-crisis intervention. Planning for such contingencies reduces chaos and trauma. Thus, the crisis response part of the plan also must include contingency provisions. Such provisions may include:

  • Evacuation procedures and other procedures to protect students and staff from harm. It is critical that schools identify safe areas where students and staff should go in a crisis. It also is important that schools practice having staff and students evacuate the premises in an orderly manner.
  • An effective, fool-proof communication system. Individuals must have designated roles and responsibilities to prevent confusion.
  • A process for securing immediate support from law enforcement officials and other relevant community agencies.


All provisions and procedures should be monitored and reviewed regularly by the core team.


Just as staff should understand and practice fire drill procedures routinely, they should practice responding to bioterrorism, radiation, chemical and other natural disasters.


School communities can provide staff and students with such practice in the following ways:

  • Provide in-service training for all faculty and staff to explain the plan and exactly what to do in a crisis. Where appropriate, include community police, youth workers, and other community members.
  • Produce a written manual or small pamphlet or flip chart to remind teachers and staff of their duties.
  • Practice responding to bioterrorism, radiation, chemical and natural disasters.

Responding in the Aftermath of Crisis

Members of the crisis team should understand natural stress reactions. They also should be familiar with how different individuals might respond to death and loss, including developmental considerations, religious beliefs and cultural values. Effective schools ensure a coordinated community response. Professionals both within the school district and within the greater community should be involved to assist individuals who are at risk for severe stress reactions.


Schools that have experienced tragedy have included the following provisions in their response plans:

  • Help parents understand children's reactions to crisis. In the aftermath of tragedy, children may experience unrealistic fears of the future, have difficulty sleeping, become physically ill and be easily distracted-to name a few of the common symptoms.
  • Help teachers and other staff deal with their reactions to the crisis. Debriefing and grief counseling is just as important for adults as it is for students.
  • Help students and faculty adjust after the crisis. Provide both short-term and long-term mental health counseling following a crisis.
  • Help victims and family members of victims re-enter the school environment. Often, school friends need guidance in how to act. The school community should work with students and parents to design a plan that makes it easier for victims and their classmates to adjust.

Crisis Procedure Checklist

A crisis plan must address many complex contingencies. There should be a step-by-step procedure to use when a crisis occurs. An example follows:

  • Assess life/safety issues immediately.
  • Provide immediate emergency medical care.
  • Call 911 and notify police/rescue first. Call the superintendent second.
  • Convene the crisis team to assess the situation and implement the crisis response procedures.
  • Evaluate available and needed resources.
  • Alert school staff to the situation.
  • Activate the crisis communication procedure and system of verification.
  • Secure all areas.
  • Implement evacuation and other procedures to protect students and staff from harm. Avoid dismissing students to unknown care.
  • Adjust the bell schedule to ensure safety during the crisis.
  • Alert persons in charge of various information systems to prevent confusion and misinformation. Notify parents.
  • Contact appropriate community agencies and the school district's public information office, if appropriate.
  • Implement post-crisis procedures.

For more information visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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