The Importance of Having An Effective School Crisis Response Plan

Everyone is aware of the rash of school violence in our nation’s schools over the past few years. From public schools in South Carolina to private daycare centers in California, no person or school seems to be immune to acts of violence on the school campus. However, crisis response is not only about preparing for and responding to acts of violence that may occur on the school campus. A school crisis can involve any type of scenario that may result in injury or harm to staff, students or visitors.

For instance, a school located near a chemical plant may be susceptible to hazardous materials exposure in the event of a chemical spill or explosion at the plant. An old school that has fallen into a state of disrepair may present a multitude of dangerous maintenance issues, from old and worn out electrical systems that create fire and electrical hazards to worn out and broken bathroom facilities that do not work and become repositories for germs and disease. Schools that have become overcrowded and use portable units for classrooms are disasters waiting to happen when a tornado or severe weather threatens.

As we all know, we do not live in a perfectly safe world and there are no perfectly safe places, including our nation’s schools. So, what are schools and school personnel supposed to do to prepare for these potential crises? The answer is simple. School personnel must develop and implement uniform district-wide and individual school crisis response plans as part of an overall comprehensive district-wide safety plan to deal with the plethora of potential crises our schools face on a daily basis.

Components of A Safety Plan

Although a thorough discussion of district-wide and individual school safety plans is beyond the scope of this article, components of a district-wide safety plan typically should include; a) generic immediate crisis response procedures for all schools; b) district office emergency procedures; c) district-wide policies and procedures; d) district-wide staff and student safety curriculum; and e) a crisis after-care manual. Components of an individual school safety plan typically include; a) prevention and curriculum plans; b) student safety curriculum; c) adult safety programs; d) building and grounds security; e) communication and security technology and equipment; f) safety information; g) responsibility for supervision of children; h) emergency procedures; i) identification of and roles of a crisis response team; and j) emergency codes and phrases. The crisis response component of the district-wide safety plan should instruct individual schools what to do in the event of a crisis, while the crisis response component of the individual school safety plan should determine who will fulfill those responsibilities during a crisis at the school.

Developing the Crisis Response Plan with Emergency Responders

In order for a school crisis response plan to be effective, the plan must interface with the plans of the local emergency response agencies. School crisis response teams must be able to complete their assigned tasks in an emergency, but they also must work within the parameters set by emergency response agencies.

Since most emergency response agencies implement a widely used system called“incident command” when responding to emergencies, school crisis response teams must have an understanding of the function of the incident command system. By the same token, emergency responders should understand the roles of school personnel, particularly school crisis response team members, in the event of a school emergency. The most effective way to ensure emergency personnel will understand what school personnel duties are in the event of a school crisis is to include emergency personnel in the development of the school crisis response plan. It is also a good idea to conduct periodic school crisis response simulations that include emergency response agencies that would respond in a real school emergency.

Accountability is the Key

School crisis response team members must not only understand how to work with local emergency responders in the event of a school crisis, they must thoroughly understand their roles as well. A school crisis response team has many roles in a crisis, including establishing the school command post; establishing a triage area for any injured individuals; establishing a parent re-unification area; establishing a media area and; establishing communication with the incident command post, the district office and the local hospital.

Although school crisis response team members have multiple roles when responding to a crisis, they ultimately have one goal. That goal is to account for every teacher, student, employee and visitor that was on the school campus at the time of the crisis and to determine his or her current whereabouts during and after the crisis.

The accountability function is the most important part of an effective crisis response plan and it is the glue that holds the school crisis response team together. If all school crisis response team members are aware their ultimate goal is to account for those on the school campus in the event of a crisis, and the crisis response plan is designed to allow team members to work together towards that goal, the school will have the basis of an effective crisis response plan in place to deal with potential emergencies.

James A. Watson is a lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia and is vice-president of Safe Schools America, Inc., a school safety consulting company with offices in Atlanta and Anderson, S.C. Safe Schools America, Inc. has been providing crisis response training, school safety planning and other school safety-related consulting services to schools throughout the eastern United States since 1992. You can contact SSA at