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In the Past
School safety procedures have historically focused on Facility Evacuation or Fire Drill exercises. These exercises are typically performed on a regular basis throughout the school year. Facility Evacuation procedures are the appropriate response for fire emergencies and for certain other threats, such as bomb threats and internal hazardous releases.
Over the last few years, Terrorist Attacks and Hostile Intruder situations have emerged as serious threats. These threats require “Emergency Lockdown” or “Shelter-in-Place” procedures be executed - the exact opposite of a Facility Evacuation. Terrorist Attacks and Hostile Intruder situations constitute life-threatening events and conducting a Facility Evacuation or failing to respond properly could be a fatal mistake. Emergency Lockdown procedures are also appropriate for other situations such as external hazardous releases and, with some modification, tornado emergencies.
Responding to the New Threats
Teachers and staff are frequently the initial responders to an
emergency situation. In particular, teachers are viewed as role models and leaders
by their students. In an emergency situation students will likely follow the advice
of their teachers and other adults. Yet very few of these initial responders have
any formal training in emergency response.
Schools need to supply all their employees with proper emergency
response procedures. These instructions need to be written in a concise
manner and need to address all current threats. In addition, management
needs to review these procedures with employees at meetings. Armed with this
information teachers will be in a position to discuss these procedures with
their students. Most importantly, as with Facility Evacuation exercises,
Emergency Lockdown procedures need to be practiced.
As we mentioned, threats that trigger an Emergency Lockdown are likely
to be life-threatening. Initially these exercises may cause some stress for
all involved but it is critically important that everyone knows the proper
action steps. In the longer term, these exercises will give everyone some level
of empowerment in an actual emergency situation that might otherwise be overwhelming.
The need to communicate emergency instructions during a crisis situation is central
to the effectiveness of executing the Emergency Management Plan. Communicating accurate
and sufficiently detailed information represents an important challenge. Typically alarms
alert everyone to conduct a Facility Evacuation. Although detailed information
(fire, bomb threat, etc.) cannot be communicated, the basic advice to evacuate the
facility is disseminated.
At a minimum some type of siren is needed to alert everyone to a dangerous condition
outside of the classroom and that an Emergency Lockdown needs to be performed.
In addition to a siren, I believe that it is very important for every school to
utilize an intercom system. Emergency information regarding a hostile intruder,
hazardous release (accidental or intentional), etc. can not be effectively
communicated by a siren alone.
Depending on the specific threat there are important differences in the
exact Emergency Lockdown procedures. For example for a Hostile Intruder threat,
doors need to be locked, windows and window treatments should be closed,
everyone should get out of sight, etc. For a tornado threat with time permitting,
you would probably want to relocate individuals in outside rooms to interior corridors -
you would not perform this procedure in a Hostile Intruder situation. Realistically
it is not possible to communicate specific advice by siren making intercom systems
a very valuable asset.
Everyone needs to develop a plan to conduct an Emergency Lockdown
(basic procedures are listed below). Specialized procedures to respond to a
Hostile Intruder, a Terrorist Attack, and other events that require the execution
of an Emergency Lockdown also need to be developed. All procedures need to be
communicated to everyone involved or potentially affected. Most importantly
these plans and procedures need to be practiced. Practicing Emergency Lockdown
procedures is as important as practicing Facility Evacuations.
General Emergency Lockdown Procedures
- An Emergency Lockdown (or "Shelter-in-Place") will be
announced by intercom or other voice communication.
- If a situation that may require an Emergency Lockdown is discovered,
the individual making the discovery shall immediately contact Police/Security
and provide as much information as possible.
- Fire evacuation alarms are not to be sounded.
- Lock classroom and other doors.
- Close windows & window treatments.
- Turn off lights.
- Everyone is to remain quiet and not enter hallways.
- Should the fire alarm sound, do not evacuate the building unless:
- You have first hand knowledge that there is a fire in the building, or
- You have been advised by Police/Security to evacuate the building.
- Crouch down in areas that are out of sight from doors and windows.
- Students in hallways are to seek shelter in the nearest classroom.
- Students in outdoor areas should immediately take cover. Return to the gym
if it is safe to do so. If the threat is outdoors on campus grounds, all outdoor
activities should be cancelled.
Doug Henderson, FSA, CBCP is the author of Emergency Management Plan for Public & Private Schools (K-12) and Emergency Management Plan for Colleges & Universities
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