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Crisis Management in Elementary Schools

Picture The Scene…

It’s a regular day like any other…

  • Angry parent “A” is complaining about their child receiving too much homework
  • A group of seven year olds is discovering if you wet toilet paper and throw it at the ceiling of the toilets it will stick
  • The staff room sink overflowing with cups because the dishwasher is broken
  • Angry parent “Z” complaining their child has not enough homework

...and that’s usually before the day even officially begins.

Then something BIG happens (and not in an “Oprah gives your school a cheque for $20,000” kind of way).

An emergency requiring immediate action!

Everyone is looking to you for direction and superhuman composure.

You’ve got a plan for everything…right?

Who, Me? But I’m An Ex-History Teacher!

When you transition from teacher to leadership no one hands you a “Running the School Utility Belt”. In many respects you are not just starting a new role, but an entirely new career.

Thankfully most educational departments provide excellent professional development, resources and guidance. Take advantage of these! Fire and police departments have liaison sections for this very sort of thing. Local governments often have a similar setup, as do community health agencies. They want to be a part of the solution.

Secondly, ask your friends. Everyone started off “not knowing” so ask around and you should get lots of help. They have been there, and done that!

But, if you only have 20mins until your policy meeting here are some points to remember…

What’s The Worst That Can Happen?

While local situations may vary, crises can generally be categorised into the following below. It is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start!

Natural: weather such as tornadoes, floods, snowstorms; earthquakes and / or tremors; wilderness fires

Medical: medically fragile students or staff with known conditions; significant injury to students, staff or guests; extreme allergic reactions

Building/Mechanical: systems failure such as electrical, water, fire suppression, heating / ventilation, sewage; sudden structural issues such as sink holes, building footings failure, roof failure

Catastrophic: fire; chemical spill; gas leak; local external emissions / contaminants

Human: intruder(s) in the building or on campus; external threats not related to the school directly but within close proximity

In the coming weeks I will be expanding on the specific areas (Natural, Medical, Building/Mechanical, Catastrophic and Human) and providing ideas and points for you to consider for each as you review and build your policies and procedures.

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Work for the best, and plan for the worst.

School leaders need to work for the best, and plan for the worst.

Planning for crises, no matter what their form, should follow set guidelines in order to maximize safety, minimize risk to people and property and mitigate liability. Consider using the following principles as guidelines (i.e. this is not legal advice) when developing or reviewing your crises management plans:

a. Planning and response procedures should be consistent and situation-appropriate, following the latest, best practices as set out by trained emergency personnel. Such procedures should have yearly reviews and practice components (i.e. drills) in co-ordination with local statute and relevant local authorities.

b. Roles of staff, students and guests should be communicated clearly on a per-procedure basis, in co-ordination with local statute and relevant local authorities.

c. Crisis event-specific procedures should have two components:
i. Preparedness (Before) - signage, equipment and supplies, off-site storage and gathering / shelter points, practice / drills, local authority contacts and preventative protocols;
ii. Response (During) - evacuation plans, lock down procedures, shelter-in-place, hold and secure and medical intervention.

d. Communication, Debriefing and Follow up- protocols in place to report, review and assess how the event was dealt with in order to improve any discovered gaps in planning / response and to assist in re-establishing normalcy in the school environment.

What Now?

Has what you have just read given you cause for concern?

Are you feeling anxious that you might be prepared for one crisis, but not another?

If yes, this is good, believe it or not!

Use these feelings as impetus to examine your current crises management practices and start to use the above guidelines. Your staff and students will be safer and better off for your diligent, responsible actions.

Reminder: I will be expanding on the specific areas (Natural, Medical, Building/Mechanical, Catastrophic and Human) and providing policy and procedure points for each.

If you would like to receive these templates please don’t forget to sign up for our weekly blog newsletter...


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Michael J. Schneider, M. Ed. is a proven education leader with experience in K-12 schools around the world. His blogs examine current educational topics, with a view to enlighten and encourage action.