Every emergency situation is different. Time of year, location, and type of emergency are just a few of the variables that will change. However, there are some people that will somehow pop up regardless of those variables. Here's who they are, so you can start planning how to deal with them.

The Staff Member Who Is Overwhelmed: Stress affects everyone differently. In an emergency, some members of your staff will become pillars of stability. You’ll be able to count on them to both take care of responsibilities previously assigned to them as well as tackle on-the-fly challenges that will inevitably arise. This person...won’t. Whether it takes the form of stunned silence or panicked sound and fury, this employee could put your school’s entire response at risk.

While you’re never going to eliminate this sort of response entirely, there are simple preparations a school can take to help people feel comfortable in an emergency. Have staff members put together a “school bag” that contains sneakers (instead of heels/dress shoes) glasses (instead of contacts) and other necessities that faculty and staff will need to feel comfortable if they’re needed in the hours or days following an emergency. Another way to preempt staff anxiety is to ask them to make an emergency plan for taking care of their loved ones. This will allow them to have peace of mind and devote their focus to assisting the school in an emergency.

The One Who Doesn’t Know How to Use Radios: This title is pretty self-evident. Communication breakdowns will cripple your school’s attempt to navigate an emergency situation. A little communications practice on the radio will help avoid these breakdowns. Many schools are unfamiliar with this simple structure that ensures no messages get lost in translation. It sounds silly, but actually practicing using the radios beforehand will help you be familiar when the time comes.

  • When you’re ready to speak with someone (and are sure you’re on the proper channel), say “[Your name] for [Person’s name you need to speak with]”
  • That person will say “Go ahead [your name]”
  • You will then deliver the message!
  • That person will complete the cycle by saying “Copy that” or asking you to repeat.

So, it might look something like this:

“Chuck for Kathy.”

“Go ahead, Chuck!”

“Kathy, we got reports that a teacher smelled gas when exiting the science building.”  

“Copy that. Thanks, Chuck.”

Kathy will then direct the facilities team to investigate.  Make sure to also design clear communications guidelines that detail who has radio privileges (hint: not every member of the staff), what radio channel they should be using, and what messages can be delivered outside of the radio to keep the airwaves clear.

The General-In-Waiting: The leader of your school’s emergency response is the commander of everything that takes place. They manage Search and Rescue teams, coordinate your school’s messages to the community, and much more. The buck stops there. Now, that’s a lot to handle. It takes a prepared, cohesive team to help relieve some of that burden and free the leader to be their best possible self. This General-In-Waiting, on the other hand, wants to relieve that burden by assuming it. This may manifest itself by actively questioning your decisions or perhaps giving directions outside the chain of command. However it happens, it presents a complicating factor in managing your emergency response.

Setting up a clear chain-of-command in every sense will help. While most organizations intuitively understand that there can only be one ultimate decision-maker. In practice, it may not be that simple. A muddled communication structure or the delivery of conflicting orders will slow down the implementation of your plan of action. Make sure that

The Needy Student: Students. We love them! They’re what makes working in a school environment so amazing. They’re why we do our jobs thoughtfully and cheerfully every day. In an emergency situation, every decision we make is on their behalf, to protect them as best as we can. With all that said, students aren’t really the most useful part of a given emergency situation. They can siphon off resources needed elsewhere and it will take a sincere effort to keep spirits among students high in an extended emergency situation.

This sort of long-term care planning should not be neglected in while in emergency preparations. For younger students, ask parents to put together a plastic bag with things that will help their child stay comfortable if they need to remain on campus for a while. Older students will frankly be a more difficult challenge. Books and cards are a good bet, but the most important element to a peaceful student body is below..

The biggest part of keeping students calm is resource allocation. Utilizing faculty/staff who can manage the mood of the environment well by just being themselves. We all know the teachers who are best-suited for this role. Don’t be afraid to utilize them where they can make the most positive impact!

The Thing That Goes Wrong: And this is if you’re lucky. Managing something like your school’s response to an emergency is so inherently complicated, with so many moving parts, that something is bound to get caught in the gears. If just one thing goes wrong, you can pretty much chalk it up as a big win.

As you may have picked up on from this article, in the naturally chaotic and stressful environment of an emergency, communication is one of the toughest challenges. If you’re looking for more communication tips for schools, click here.

Ultimately, the most valuable resource you have to get you through an emergency is people. The staff at your school is knowledgeable, kind, and willing to do anything to protect its students. That’s why your community can handle any twist a disaster throws at you. And twists will certainly be thrown.

Check out some of our other school safety resources below!

Ten Signs of an Unsafe School 

Balancing School Safety and Daily Operations

Why Hire a School Safety Consultant?

Threat Assessment Programs in School