Be PreparedDemonstrating Competence, Building Confidence, and Closing the Loop.
Utilizing an AAR to prepare for a future weather event is just as necessary as training for a less-likely active threat event.
It is not always an Active Threat Event. In fact, it is seldom an Active Threat Event. It is an event that is more likely to occur and, yet, we somehow drop the ball. Not because we are incompetent, but because we do not follow a standard set of practices and follow up with an After Action Review with stakeholders. Last week, the school district I’ve been working with for over three years and I had our monthly meeting with First Responders. The agenda changes every month but the focus is always on how to continually improve what is being done to keep our students and staff safe. This meeting included After Action Reviews (AAR) for two incidents. I’ll talk about a weather incident in this blog and the second incident in a separate blog…
It is almost spring in Ohio and this means tornado season is upon us. We had tornados last week and the warning sirens went off during dismissal. Some buses were already on the road.
Students were leaving the buildings to get on buses, walk home, or to get in vehicles with their parents. Building administrators brought walkers and bus riders back in the building. Parents and car riders were encouraged to come back inside, but many parents ignored the warning siren and took their children home. Transportation directed buses on the road to the nearest school. Once at the school, students and the bus drivers went to the tornado safe areas of the building until the warning was lifted. In the end, no one was hurt or injured, and everyone went home.
The first question asked by the District Administrator was, “What we did wrong?” This is not an uncommon question. I’ve had Superintendents from all over the country call me and ask this same question based on an incident in their district. I answer a question with a question: “Did everyone go home at the end of the day?” When they answer, “Yes,” I tell them they did nothing wrong and lead them through an AAR.
In an AAR we ask four questions:
What did we do well?
What we do differently if this event happens again?
Do we need to change our plans?
Do we need to change our training?
So, what did they do well?
First, they followed their plans. Incident commanders at each building, transportation, and at the district level knew their Emergency Operation Plans. They began making decisions without having to first access their EOP. This demonstrates they were trained on their EOP and had exercised their plan to test the capabilities outlined.
What will they do differently if the event happens again?
Keep track of the schools where the buses on the road brought their students. Although all buses were accounted for, when parents called to check on their children, transportation could only tell the parents the students were safe. For most parents, this was good enough information. Some parents demanded more information. Being able to say a child was safe at Building X would have helped with some parents.
In a couple of buildings were buses arrived with students, the principal fell back on the standard practice of putting overflow students in the gym. In both cases, they realized this was not a tornado safe area and move the students to a safer location.
Do they need to change their plans?
As to their response to the event, no. The nice thing about Ohio is the Ohio School Safety Center provides templates for school EOPs. These plans are updated and approved by the OSSC every three years. They district also followed their communications annex by using their mass notification system to keep parents and community stakeholders informed.
Will they need to change their training?
Yes. We learned that once an incident such as this is over, the district administration takes a deep breathe, gives a sigh of relief, and them move back into their many tasks. They don’t take the time to close the loop. In future events, they will debrief and do an AAR with the bus drivers, building administrators and their staff. The district’s Public Information Officer will develop communication pieces for each building level to share with parents how the district responds to weather events, especially while students are either in route to school or on their way home from school. And a news release will be drafted describing the event and the district’s response to the event.
The AAR leads to a corrective action plan so the district will be better prepared when there is a future incident. In this incident, the Deputy Superintendent will be responsible for the AARs and the PIO will be responsible for the communications.
Compared to an Active Threat Event, this incident is often referred to as a high probability, low impact event. However, following your plans and training in these types of events will better prepare a district for low probability, high impact events.
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Does your District focus more on High or Low Probability Events? How do you use your AARs to plan for both kinds of events?