Do they Know What to Do at the Top?

Effective resolution of major crisis events is greatly facilitated if all of the institution’s personnel know what to do. One of the best ways for all personnel to know what to do in a crisis is an emergency operations plan that is appropriately designed by role-specific yet integrated plan components. For example, a university police officer and a dean of students do not perform the same action steps in a crisis, yet their actions should be mutually supportive. This means they cannot respond as effectively if they are attempting to utilize the same exact plan component. Once integrated plan components have been developed for major categories of employees, they should be trained in the proper use of their plan components via live training, custom training videos, and/or robust Web courses. To be effective, this training should include training in the National Incident Management System to prepare employees to work effectively as a team under chaotic and stressful conditions. After this solid framework has been constructed, employees should participate in a progressive exercise program to test plans and to allow personnel to practice utilizing their plan components. This step is also crucial to help prepare people to function effectively under the stress of an actual event.

Making the Plan Work
This description of the core components of an integrated approach to campus emergency preparedness obviously does not cover every aspect of preparedness planning, but it does cover the most important. We have seen plan failure with some pretty robust campus emergency plans, including high-tech software programs, virtual campus tours, extensive use of full-scale exercises, and other viable concepts when an integrated approach to planning was not also utilized. One thought raised by this approach to improved emergency planning involves top-level personnel for the institution. The more progressive institutions of higher learning have provided training on emergency preparedness, decision-making under stress, and the National Incident Management System for their presidents and cabinet-level personnel. They have also afforded them an opportunity to practice for crisis situations by their participation in a progressive exercise program. Our hat is off to those institutions that have made such strides, and we encourage more to join their ranks.

The K–12 Approach
One way to enhance these types of efforts is to utilize an approach that is becoming increasingly popular among K–12 school districts. During the past couple of years, an increasing number of K–12 school systems have begun developing role-specific strategic-level emergency preparedness plans for their superintendents and cabinet officials. As one example, two years ago, the Rockdale County, GA, public school system applied for and was awarded an emergency management grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Though the district had developed good plans many years before and had been highlighted extensively in the national media for their excellent handling of a major crisis event more than a decade before, they decided it was time to completely revamp their emergency preparedness system. Under the grant, the district has been working tirelessly with state and local emergency response agency personnel and a large district planning team to provide training, custom training videos, a custom-developed train-the-trainer program, security, safety and emergency preparedness assessments for all schools and support facilities annually, and a progressive drill and exercise program, and completely revamped written emergency preparedness plans for seven different groupings of school employees.

One of the new plan components being developed in the district is what they refer to as a “Top Level Plan.” This plan component provides detailed sets of action steps to guide the response of the school superintendent and his cabinet. Like all building administrators in the district, the superintendent and his entire cabinet have received advanced-level training on emergency preparedness and have participated in a series of video tabletop exercises to hone crisis decision-making skills, and will continue to participate in tabletop exercises, functional exercises, and full-scale exercises.

Start at the Top
The very idea of an educational organization’s chief executive officer and indispensable administrative staff being forced to “wing it” during a crisis while the personnel they supervise are afforded written plan components can seem starkly out of place. For those institutions of higher learning that do not have this type of plan component in place, an excellent opportunity may exist to significantly improve the ability of the president and his or her key staff to function extremely well in a major crisis event.

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