Risk Management |
Article by Brandon Perry, Phoenix Country Day School
From the March/April 2019 Net Assets magazine
Many schools offer after-school, evening and weekend programs for students and the surrounding community, including extended-day childcare, academic activities, summer programs, athletics, outside rentals or even adult education classes. In addition, numerous types of events occur on school grounds after hours, such as concerts, fundraisers, theatrical productions, athletics and social events. However, schools often overlook the need to include these programs in their emergency management planning efforts. Just because the teaching day is done, many campuses are still abuzz late into the evening.
After-school programs may also present unique challenges for emergency management planning due to the likelihood of staff who may only work seasonally or part-time, such as coaches, volunteers or other personnel otherwise unaffiliated with the school. These individuals may not have awareness of the potential for emergencies, may not be familiar with school facilities and grounds, or may not be trained to respond appropriately should an emergency occur.
While it is smart to model your after-school emergency plan and procedures after your in-session plan, some procedures will likely need to change. That’s because during after-school hours, certain rooms may be closed, gates that are normally locked may be accessible, or key personnel may not be available to make big decisions, such as whether to go into lockdown or evacuate the campus. Evaluate and prepare for how your school’s emergency plans may look different after hours. When planning, consider including after-school staff, key administrators, your security team and coaches, as all can offer a different perspective.
Important things to consider when creating an after-school emergency plan:
Here at Phoenix Country Day School, the after-school emergency plan parallels our in-session emergency plan. We use a mass communication phone app, Intouch, to contact appropriate groups (students, parents, faculty and staff) with the appropriate information. We are fortunate to employ a security team of exclusively off-duty Phoenix police officers who are highly trained for emergency situations and can monitor local police activity. We also make sure that they are familiar with our school’s emergency plan and layout. Our emergency plan is available in every classroom by the door. In addition, we use a smartphone app called Navigate Prepared that uses flipcharts to outline what to do in almost every situation, from utility failures to lockdowns. It includes class lists and contact lists for key personnel. All after-hours staff are required to read our plan and are encouraged to download the phone app for quick reference.
The day before Thanksgiving last year, we had an emergency situation when the school was closed that highlighted the need for a comprehensive after-hours emergency plan. Due to an off-campus incident (police were searching for an armed man in the vicinity of campus), the local police department put our whole neighborhood on lockdown. At the time, several athletics teams were practicing, a handful of faculty were working on campus, and an external renter was in our aquatic center. Campus security contacted key personnel who then put out a mass communication call to all faculty and staff using the InTouch phone app. The call directed employees on campus to gather all students and visitors and go into lockdown. Off-campus employees were directed to stay away until the all-clear call came. In addition, our athletic director called his coaches on campus to alert them to the situation and direct them to take attendance and lock themselves in. Fortunately, the situation off-campus was resolved, and the all-clear was given an hour later.
Every emergency or crisis allows us to re-evaluate our emergency response plan. These events show us what we are doing right and where we can improve. We have found that our communication system works reasonably well, but has some flaws that will be addressed. We also need to address the curiosity factor. After the mass communication informing our faculty and staff of the Thanksgiving incident, for example, the head of our emergency response team was inundated with calls, texts and emails asking what was going on. This created problems for her as she needed to communicate with key people on campus during the event. We will retrain faculty and staff to wait until the all-clear is given before they try to find out what happened. We will also train additional staff members on our mass communication phone app so we always have someone available who knows how to use it. And, we have designated additional backups for key personnel. You never know when a key member of your emergency response team will be unavailable due to illness, technical difficulties, travel, etc., especially after hours and during holiday breaks. Always have a backup for your backups.
Emergencies almost never happen at a “convenient” time. In fact, they are more likely to occur during drop-off, dismissal, lunch time or after hours when everyone may be least prepared. With increased security during school hours, some perpetrators may be looking for that “softer” target. If we train well, practice and constantly reevaluate our emergency plans, we can help to close any gaps related to emergency response preparedness both during the school day as well as after-hours.
Download a PDF of this article.
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