How much is too much?

Contemplating crisis preparedness in the school setting

By Skyler Garrahy  | November | December 2019
Earthquakes, fires, floods, and blackouts are not everyday events. However, when these events take place they are disruptive, scary, and dangerous. Unfortunately, most individuals are not prepared for the recommended three-day supply of food, water, and medications. Even the most prepared individuals may not be fully prepared for an emergency event. People would rather believe that this kind of event will not happen or they will be serviced by emergency responders fast enough to not be in danger. The comments of, “this will never happen” or “we can’t be so paranoid and scare people” can no longer be tolerated in areas prone to natural disasters. The concept of better to be safe than sorry is an understatement when it comes to crisis preparedness — especially at our school sites.  Take a moment and ask yourself a few questions. Do you, as a school administrator, know where your emergency shed is located? Do you even have one? What is in it? Who has the keys? Do your teachers and staff know where it is and what is in it?  If there was any hesitation in answering any of the previous questions, then take a moment to think about the number of students you have on your campus. Add in the number of staff members. Follow up with the number of community members that will seek shelter at your site. Take the final number you have in your head and grasp that it could be a few hours to a few days that you may need to provide services for these people — your people. Services that may only be able to come from your site. Roads may be destroyed, power may be gone, water sources contaminated, and the phones may be down. This is not supposed to be a Chicken Little “the sky is falling” type of thought process, but rather a wakeup call to what we are also responsible for on our campus.  As administrators, we are responsible for the daily activities of running a school site. Making sure the site is ready for teachers to teach and students are ready to learn. We construct professional development for our staff, maintain technology for our site, provide the means for necessary nutrition, all while creating a safe and secure location to support students’ success both academically and social emotionally. Part of maintaining a safe and secure campus that allows student success is making sure students and staff know exactly what they are to do in the event of an emergency. Let’s be real for a moment. No matter how prepared you are, and how prepared you believe your staff is, when the event is real and in your face is the only time you will truly know how you and your staff will respond. It is our responsibility to make sure that we give each staff member practical knowledge and time to practice for a variety of crises. Staff professional development must include crisis preparedness. As an administrator, you are responsible for the professional development of your staff. As an educator, you are responsible for the students under your supervision. If a crisis occurs, students will look to their teachers for direction. If teachers are not prepared it can create more panic and unnecessary danger for all on the school site. Let’s be clear on a few things. Most teachers did not choose this profession to be heroes in the event of an emergency. If that was the case they would be in the first responder profession. There are many teachers who do not even want to talk about crisis situations, just like there are many teachers who do not want to talk about school shootings, but these are possible situations that can occur on a campus. Yes, it is scary. None of us want to have a crisis event on our campus, but if we fail to prepare we are preparing to fail. Failing to prepare for a test results in an “F” but failing to prepare staff on crisis preparedness will result in far worse. School crisis preparedness needs to not be an afterthought in the time we have professional development, but rather a constant. This is not a pleasant conversation on professional development to have. Crisis preparedness can get depressing, unnerving, and very morbid — very quickly. It would be easier just to focus on curriculum, testing, and our more known school duties, but this is one of the tough conversations and professional developments we can’t afford to put aside any longer. Schools need to be prepared. Crisis preparedness needs to become just part of what we do — every day — to maintain the safety of our communities, schools, staff, and our students. 

As an educator, you are responsible for the students under your supervision. If a crisis occurs, students will look to their teachers for direction.
No emergency will be the same. We cannot prepare for who will be where and what event may take place. What we can prepare for, and understand, is that we all must be aware that emergencies can and do happen. Most emergencies do not give a warning that they are coming. It is our duty to our community, staff, and students to be ready. Small steps can make a huge difference in the event of an emergency.  Consider the following: 1. Do you know the medical needs of your staff? We know our students’ health concerns, but do we know if our staff has any needs?  2. Does your staff know what emergency procedures you have in place? This means going beyond handing out an emergency plan and allowing it to be read when convenient.  3. Do you and your staff have a “go bag” in your car, classroom or office? A supply of clothes, medications, or other needs?  4. Who has the keys to your emergency items? Are they located in one location or many locations on campus?  5. How many staff members know where the utilities are and how to turn them off?  6. How will you determine who stays and who gets to leave before all students are reunified with their parents or guardian? After an hour, a day, or more?  7. How will you communicate with your staff and district office? With a major emergency cell phones become overwhelmed quickly. Do you use an app for communication? Do you have a handheld two-way radio that does not need the use of a repeater that requires electricity?  8. Who has medical training on staff?  Although this 10 no way a complete guide to crisis preparedness, it is a conversation starter. A start that will hopefully trigger more discussion and thoughts regarding the safety and security of your school site. This cannot be done in isolation. This plan and these conversations must include the community, staff, and students. We don’t know where or what crisis will occur. We can hope we will never have to deal with a major emergency on site, but the reality is it is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when. The more we prepare, the more we teach, and the more we plan, through crisis preparedness training on campuses, the safer our staff and students will be, and the apter for a positive outcome. 
Skyler Garrahy is the Assistant Principal of Oceanside High School.

© 2019 Association of California School Administrators

Association of California School Administrators