real life eventSnakes, Schools, and Safety
Is your school prepared to handle everything this year?
“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?”
– Indiana Jones
I was working with a district in Texas and a school building’s afternoon dismissal was delayed while the school’s police officer dealt with a snake in the bus lane. Like Indiana Jones, I am not a fan of snakes. While I have lost track of the number of school Emergency Operation Plans (EOP) I have written over the years, I know I have never included a functional annex to deal with snakes. An all-hazards approach addresses capabilities-based preparedness to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. As minutes ticked by watching this police officer wrangle the snake, I thought to myself, “Have I failed my clients? If I haven’t prepared them for everything, have I prepared them for anything?”
I spent thirty years in education, starting as an eighth-grade science teacher and retiring as the district’s safety director. We teachers can be a strange bunch. We develop lesson plans, learning activities, tests, and deliver the instruction in the controlled environment of our classrooms. We do certain things, and we expect certain outcomes. When teaching math, if a student does not understand 1 + 2 = 3 then we reach into our playbook for another teaching strategy to help our students achieve a desired outcome of understanding math. Unfortunately, there is no set playbook for responding to an event at school. We cannot train or prepare our staff for every possible event. Early in my career this led to the endless cycle of “What if” questions during training scenarios. Teachers were demanding a definitive plan for every event.
There are 3 incident objectives of the Incident Command System:
1: Life Safety
2: Incident Stabilization
3: Property/Environmental Preservation Incident
When training school staff, I focus on the first two priorities for staff during any event, Life Safety and Incident Stabilization. When I define incident stabilization, I put it into the simplest terms: Keep the incident from getting worse. I stress to the staff their safety is the number one priority, especially with younger children or students with disabilities. If something happens to the staff member and there is no one to take care of their students, they have made the incident worse. This is the same concept used by the airlines when we are told to put on our own mask first so we can take care of those around us.
We now can begin running through scenarios to help staff reinforce these priorities. It does not matter if a child is choking on a Skittle during lunch or an Active Threat Event, life safety and incident stabilization are their first priorities. In our snake scenario everyone agrees we should keep the students away from the snake but if we tried to move the snake away with our bare hands, we would be making the situation worse.
This teaching methodology has significantly reduced the “What if” questions during training. What do I do when I still get those questions? I ask the staff member, “What would you do if you were with your own child and this event happens?” The staff member almost immediately starts listing all of things they would do to keep their child safe and not make the situation worse.
Training your staff, empowering them to make decisions during an event based on their training and knowledge, and practicing their skills with exercises not only keeps your students and staff safe, but it also reduces fears and anxiety of your staff when it comes to the uncertainties of responding to an event.
A Note from Gary
I hope everyone’s year is off to a great start. The start of this school year has been especially busy for me this year and I feel like I am a month behind in getting my blogs out. To be fair, my last blog before the start of the summer was titled, See You In September. During this school year I will continue to focus on issues they may impact your school or district. If there is a topic you would like me to cover, please let me know. If I don’t have the answer, I will find someone who does have the answer. I also have subject matter expert guest bloggers scheduled throughout the school year to share important information with you.
How have you dealt with school safety issues or solved problems in your school or district? Give me a call, send me an email, or send me a message below and we can share your story with others.
Have a fantastic school year!
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