Up to Speed

Having a best practices school safety plan is nothing short of a life and death matter. While most institutions today have plans vastly superior to those of five or 10 years ago, few school officials I have interacted with indicate they have plans that address all four phases of emergency management in specific, written and detailed form as recommended by the U.S. Departments of Education and Homeland Security.

The following summarized version of a self-assessment plan evaluation checklist from Safe Havens International may be helpful in your efforts to ensure you have the very best plan possible.

Plan Section

A complete plan should have four distinct and written sections to address all four phases of emergency management. Any missing section can result in chronic plan failure, serious injury or death and increased civil liability. A plan that does not contain all four plan sections in distinct and written form is incomplete.

Prevention and Mitigation

This section includes a compilation of all measures in place to prevent accidents, fires and criminal acts, as well as measures to mitigate those situations. Mitigation efforts are designed to minimize the negative impact of those incidents that either cannot be prevented (such as a tornado) or that occur in spite of prevention efforts.


The preparedness plan is the written plan that specifically guides the actions of staff during a crisis or disaster. Preparedness efforts to support the plan also include stockpiling of disaster supplies, training of all full- and part-time employees, and the coordination of a progressive exercise program.


The response plan is the formal written plan that enables the recorder from the crisis response team to log critical functions from the emergency operations plan to ensure they are not missed by staff functioning under extreme stress. The response plan also provides a system for documenting who performed crucial steps and when they were carried out. The response plan also outlines the incident command system under the National Incident Command System model.


The first recovery plan component is the mental health plan outlining crucial functions like death notification, the crisis recovery model that will be used and the organization’s involvement in memorials. The second component is the business continuity plan that spells out how the purpose of the institution will be resumed or continued in spite of major disasters.

All full- and part-time employees should receive formal briefings and/or training on the proper implementation of the plan. Training must documented in written form.

A progressive exercise program must be established that involves the following.

Drills appropriate to local hazards

    • lockdown

    • shelter in place

    • reverse evacuation

    • severe weather

    • earthquake

Other exercises should include tabletop exercises, functional exercises and full– scale exercise.

It is most important that the plan addresses all types of hazards that have been identified as relevant by the local emergency management agency. Representatives from the following agencies (at a minimum) should be involved with plan development and have reviewed the final draft plan.

    • Law enforcement

    • Fire service

    • Emergency management

    • Public health department

    • Emergency medial services

Internal review

Representatives from the following departments (at a minimum)need to be involved with plan development and have reviewed the final draft plan.

    • Risk management

    • Food services

    • Student services

    • Legal

    • Finance

    • Public information office

    • Student government

    The plan must be externally reviewed by a person or agency with emergency management expertise (such as the state emergency management agency).

    The plan should have distinct and separate protocols for biological, chemical and radiological incidents. The crisis team can receive emergency communications by at least two means besides telephone.

    A system must be in place to quickly communicate emergency conditions throughout the campus to order a lockdown, shelter in place, emergency evacuation, etc. External public address capability has been developed. There must also be plan components for every category of employee.

    Effective safety requires the ability to periodically assess our safety and emergency preparedness measures in a critical manner. A thoughtful self evaluation of campus safety plans with a critical eye can save lives.

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at www.safehavensinternational.org.