Nobody likes talking or thinking about it, but crisis management and emergency preparedness has become a new reality for school administrators. As recent years have demonstrated, school districts are no stranger to catastrophes both natural and man-made, and administrators and facilities teams have a new imperative to address these growing concerns to keep students and faculty safe.
Moving forward, creating and disseminating an appropriate crisis response plan that leverages building management technology for communication and efficiency will remain a priority for those concerned with the safety and health of public schools.
The growing need for crisis response
According to data from SchoolDude, 90% of administrators needed to contact parents to address a safety concern on the school grounds over the past year - and 31% of these were related to a school lockdown. This sobering statistic highlights a rising school safety concern in the armed aggressor. As The New York Times reported, many of the nation's roughly 10,000 to 12,000 school-based police officers have shifted focus and adjusted tactics to best respond to such a situation should one arise.
Of course, the burden also falls to school districts to invest in a disaster response plan, both to prevent potential situations as much as possible, and to handle cases as safely and efficiently as possible. Fortunately for parents, students and administrators alike, many schools already have some form of response strategy in place. As SchoolDude reported, roughly 40% of schools indicated that they felt unprepared to handle a crisis situation, despite that nationally, 42% of schools have self-imposed guidelines - rather than merely meeting government-regulated minimums - for safety. Additionally, 52% of schools stated that they have plans to invest in further developing their action plans to improve safety.
Modernizing crisis response
The Office for Victims of Crime has outlined a set of guidelines meant to help officials at school, district and government levels devise appropriate crisis response strategies. The primary responsibility school administrators should focus on in emergency situations is a safe evacuation, executing procedures to move students, staff and faculty to safety, and then providing timely information, both to those within the school and to parents at home who need to be informed. Unfortunately, many such efforts are woefully lo-fi. The current strategies to communicate crisis situations are largely paper and status quo, with more than 74% of schools still using binders, maps, posters and diagrams. Only 22% of schools have a system in place that sends notifications to parents in the event of a crisis.
Moving forward, key roles outlined in a template plan by the OVC are likely to play a more important role in managing disaster response than they have previously. Specifically, managing internal communications, media communications, communications with professional services such as police and ambulances, as well as crowd control, are essential to effective crisis response. Administrators would be well-served to explore using technology to facilitate this type of communication more clearly and immediately. Having a social media strategy that makes use of services such as Twitter and Facebook may sound odd, but the immediacy and mobility such platforms offer can be invaluable in an emergency scenario.