Hurricane Ian has served as a sad reminder of severe weather’s destructive power. From storms to earthquakes to wildfires, there’s no shortage of potential natural disasters that can strike without warning.
It’s important that your school district has plans and processes in place to address these disasters if and when they occur. Though these types of crises are usually unpredictable, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still try and plan for every possible eventuality.
While the exact type of disaster or severe weather phenomena you’re at risk of typically depends on the region, the process of preparing for the worst is the same nationwide. Here are four key steps in that process.
1. Create a school crisis plan
Schools should have emergency plans in place that cover mitigation, prevention, preparedness, and response.
A school crisis plan details all of the actions that must be taken in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency. If you’re unsure how to create one, use the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s sample plan as a starting point.
FEMA’s sample school crisis plan addresses natural disasters (such as floods), technological hazards (such as a chemical disaster), and human-caused hazards (such as an intruder). Your crisis plan should also include an information dissemination system—a process for spreading news of disaster and preparation throughout the school district.
It’s critical that you create and learn these plans now, so that no one is caught off guard in the event of an actual emergency. Make sure that first responders, school staff, students, and parents are all on the same page, and everyone knows what is expected of them in a crisis.
2. Run practice drills
Once you have plans in place, it’s important to put them to the test. You don’t want your school crisis plan to undergo its first “stress test” in the event of an actual crisis.
That’s why it’s always smart to conduct practice drills—which include the participation of parents and community members. For example, before hurricane season started up this year, the city of Corpus Christi, Texas, tested out its evacuation process. The city worked with the school district, local organizations, transit, emergency management, and volunteers who acted as evacuees needing transportation to safe locations throughout the state.
As you run practice drills, assess the execution of your crisis plans to see how feasible they are, and which steps or processes should be improved or eliminated.
3. Keep families informed and involved
Another critical part of any emergency plan is knowing how you will quickly reunite students with their parents or guardians after a natural disaster.
School districts should share their post-disaster reunification plans with families, informing them about the locations of evacuation zones and sites. These resources should be available in a variety of languages, and should be publicized and shared via emails, websites, mailers, and handouts.
Your school district should also collaborate with first responders and community partners so that they’re aware of post-disaster procedures, as well. There are several federal websites available that provide resources to your school to help with the reunification planning and process.
If you’d like a federal resource to help you with this aspect of crisis planning, check out this Post-Disaster Reunification Fact Sheet from the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance Center.
4. Prepare teachers and kids for unplanned days off
It’s very likely that many school days will be missed in the wake of a natural disaster, and students may need to learn remotely for long periods of time before they can return to school.
The silver lining, of course, is that COVID closures have already prepared many teachers and students for “virtual learning.” Many educators have adopted tools that help them continue to do their jobs outside of the classroom—including one-to-one device programs.
According to K12dive, one-to-one devices have allowed teachers to connect with students in unique ways. For example, P.E. teachers in Minnesota have told students to exercise on snow days by shoveling neighborhood driveways, and used the one-to-one devices to monitor the students’ heart rates. Similarly, art teachers have remotely taught students how to take “selfies” as part of photography lessons.
Make sure students and teachers have the tools they need to continue education in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
More preparedness means more peace of mind
A lot of work goes into disaster preparedness—you need to plan for every possibility, practice your processes, keep all stakeholders informed, and know how to keep students safe and engaged in the aftermath of the disaster. It’s a big task, but as the old adage goes: it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Also, carefully created school crisis plans help provide parents with more peace of mind. Parents and guardians want to know that their children are safe—which is one reason why school safety surveys are so important. Sogolytics can help you create a safer environment with our safety survey templates, along with countless other K12 resources. Learn what our powerful platform can do for your district.