In 2004, a national preparedness study was conducted of 2,137 (usable returned responses) superintendents in public school districts. The objective of the study was to document the preparedness of public schools in the United States for the prevention of and response to a mass-casualty event (Graham, 2007). In the survey, summary results indicated that most school superintendents (86.3%) reported having a response plan, but fewer than 57% had a plan for prevention. Ninety-six percent of superintendents had an evacuation plan, but approximately one third (30%) of those surveyed had never conducted a drill. Almost one quarter of superintendents (22.1%) indicated that they had no disaster plan provisions for children with special health care needs, while one quarter reported having no plans for post-disaster counseling. Almost half (42.8%) had never met with local ambulance officials to discuss emergency planning (Graham, 2007).
I’m developing an outline for a public television presentation. Each time I’m fooled into believing that I’ve saved the “final” draft, I find myself steered to the script with edits upon edits, as with school safety, there simply isn’t a cumulative document. An area I discuss in my presentation is that there are actually four phases of crisis preparedness and response. The following are my definitions of those quadrants – so a bit anecdotal and in a yet-to-be-polished version, but still, my points are clear. Of these steps, my experiences and observations in public education are that schools have figured out how to tackle the planning step – it’s not always a clean tackle, but schools have “plans” — yet, do schools drill for probable external threats – and are they even aware of those threats — such as the district with train tracks that divide the city — and trains that quietly transport toxic waste through the community and within a half mile of schools that house over 2300 students?
Implementation often lacks fidelity and depth — as tabletop crisis drills, for example, are uncommon in school – and full-scale simulations are just not a part of the school vernacular. Of all of the steps, re-connection is the chapter missing from the crisis handbook, the last page that was never added to the flipchart. Yet, the majority of time will be devoted to this phase. It is this phase that “heals” a school – and a tendency to package recovery into a series of tributes – sometimes with haste in order to return to “normalcy” – fail to recognize that everyone is affected differently by a crisis and hence, recovery and coping is per the individual and not a group activity that ends when the timer sounds. Does this mean endless counseling, a perpetual recovery? It does not, it means perpetual compassion. Think about it.
The Steps of Crisis Planning and Response include anticipation, planning, implementation and re-connection.
Anticipation: The process by which to identify potential and external threats. This might include the analysis of social vulnerability indexes and geographic information systems to identify external threats. Once potential threats are identified, it is necessary to filter them through a prioritization process as to ensure that the most probably, or threats with the risk for most substantial risk of harm, are given a higher priority relative to planning and drills.
- While an affinity process can be used to better capture the spectrum of potential threats, it should always be coupled to an objective analysis of internal and external environments.
- This step should be repeated every 3 years to ensure that the school can account for newly emerged threats.
Planning: The process of putting in place the procedures and resources required to respond to a crisis. Planning will also account of potential barriers that would impede the next step, implementation.
Implementation: This step will include professional development of anyone expected to execute the plan or participate in the plan, which includes students. Drills, including tabletop exercises, full-scale simulations with external partners, and authentic events are characteristics of this phase.
Re-connection: Re-unification of students with families is a component of this phase. In addition, post-event trauma care for staff, students, families and responders is critical in this phase. An analysis of the implementation process is also a requirement of this step as to inform any adjustments that must be made to the implementation plan.
The re-connection plan is sometimes undervalued or overlooked – particularly post-event debriefing of impacted persons. The re-connection stage can last for several days or even weeks (or months).
In the book Columbine by Dave Cullen (2009), the author shared that some victims felt resentment for being “rushed to recovery” by care providers.