Emergency Evacuation Kit Revisited

When the editor of School Planning and Management asked me to write a column five years ago, I wondered if I would be able to come up with new information — every month — that would be useful to readers. While working on the draft manuscript for my next book, a compilation of updated versions of these columns and supplemental chapters, l realized that my goal of not repeating columns may be at cross purposes on occasion. Therefore, this month, we shall revisit a valuable emergency preparedness tool — the emergency evacuation kit. Since the first column on this topic appeared back in 1999, several vendors have introduced commercial kits, and improvements in the concept have come from school officials. Next month, we will examine disaster kits and emergency medical kits for schools.

The emergency evacuation kit is a portable container that allows school officials to easily take critical information on the people in the school, emergency phone numbers, emergency checklists and important information about the building with them should the need to evacuate or manage a crisis arise. The kit should be kept in the building administrator’s office with other emergency equipment, such as a flashlight, portable cellular phone and a bullhorn. The kit becomes the portable“command center” for the lead school administrator during the critical first few minutes of a critical situation. The administrator or a designated staff member should take the kit with them whenever the building is evacuated. It is a good idea to take the kit during drills to help ensure that it will be remembered during an actual crisis. Keep in mind that even seasoned professionals lose much of their cognitive reasoning ability during a crisis. Practicing simple emergency functions, like removing the emergency evacuation kit, is crucial to ingraining an appropriate response during high-stress situations.

A second duplicate kit, that a designated back-up crisis response team member will also take with them during an emergency, is advisable. The kit should be stored in an out-of-sight location in a part of the building remote from the main office. As with the primary kit, it should be stored in a manner where it cannot be easily accessed by an offender, such as a burglar or a hostage taker.

While commercial kits are available, perhaps the best kits around are those that have been assembled by astute school crisis team members. Rolling backpacks with a carry handle and a collapsible extension handle are probably the best type of container. For a fraction of the cost of commercial kits, school officials can produce superior kits, particularly when they use standardized kits and contents purchased in bulk for a school system. Using a standardized kit also makes it possible for emergency response personnel and school crisis team members to spot a kit that has been dropped or left unattended during a chaotic evacuation.

Normally, both kits from the building will be quickly taken to the incident command post whenever students and staff are evacuated to ensure that the school can provide critical information to public safety responders. The lead school administrator should assist the public safety official who is designated to be in charge of the incident scene.

Some school emergency operations plans indicate that the second kit should be taken to the family reunification center as long as the primary kit is on hand at the incident command post. This will facilitate the process of transferring custody of students to parents and guardians efficiently. The student contact information will ensure that noncustodial parents and others who are not authorized to have access to a child do not exploit the crisis situation.

The school administrator at each scene (incident scene and family reunification center) should quickly make contact with the public safety site commander and ensure that they have access to the information contained in the kit. It is normally best for the kit to stay under the control of a representative of the school, as public safety personnel will not be as familiar with the information in the box and will often need a school staff member to find and interpret the information that is needed.

A properly assembled kit that contains regularly updated information can help school administrators and public safety responders dramatically improve the way in which a crisis situation is handled. While school emergencies are chaotic under the best of circumstances, the information in an emergency kit can go a long way to make the process much more orderly and effective. More importantly, this information can save lives in a crisis.

About the Author

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at www.safehavensinternational.org.