Virginia Tech, Columbine, the fires in San Diego county... As a parent, there’s nothing more frightening than thinking about an emergency situation arising while your child is at school. But schools across the country are putting plans in place to prepare for any eventuality.


Despite our tendency to think of extreme scenarios, schools crisis plans are actually developed as a way to respond to all types of emergencies. In schools, emergencies can range from a gas leak to an extreme weather situation to, more disturbingly, school violence. The bottom line, says Peter Pochowksi, Executive Director of the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officers, is that your school has planned for “where your child would go if the school is unavailable.”


Crisis plans tackle that and much more. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education has released a document called “Practical Information on Crisis Planning: a Guide for Schools and Communities” which provides guidelines to help schools create and implement a crisis plan. According to Pochowski, it’s a necessary document for all schools. “It is,” he says “the hymnal we’re all singing from across the country.”


The song has four verses that schools need to learn: Mitigation & Prevention, Preparedness, Response and Recover. In practical terms, the four steps break down like this:


  • Mitigation & Prevention: Districts begin by looking at school violence policies, assessing physical access points to buildings and speaking to community responders about putting a joint response plan in place.

  • Preparedness: Individual schools build a crisis management team, all of whom have a designated job in an emergency, as well as establishing an alternative site for evacuation purposes. Schools should also have ongoing fire and evacuation drills and create what the National Educational Association (NEA) refers to as a “Go Box”:  a wheeled suitcase containing all the students' emergency cards, a portable phone, and a copy of the crisis checklist.

  • Response: Simply put, in any given emergency situation schools follow the outlined crisis plan, whether it be evacuation during a fire, sheltering during an earthquake, or simply staying calm in the event of an unexpected disturbance.

  • Recovery: In this phase, administrators debrief all the parties involved, plan for mental health interventions, and decide when school will reopen.

Parents play an important part in crisis planning, too. They need to make sure that they are following up on their own school's plan, and following through on a home emergency plan. Some of the tips Staci Maiers, press officer for the NEA, offers are:


  • Learn about the prevention programs your school offers

  • Teach your child the difference between tattling and reporting dangerous situations

  • Develop a family plan for responding to crises

  • Keep communication lines open with your child by asking questions

  • Find out about local, state and national tip lines where safety concerns can be shared anonymously.


Hopefully, your school district will never have the opportunity to use its crisis plan. But in the meantime, make sure the procedures are crystal clear and speak up if they’re not. Pochowski’s final thought on school crisis plans? “Schools shouldn’t write a plan that can be understood, they need to write one that can’t be misunderstood.”