Crisis management refers to the policies and procedures developed for handling emergency situations. Since crises vary in size and scope, methods and management procedures vary across grade levels and situations. The imperative steps to creating and implementing any effective crisis management plan are mainly prevention, preparation, response and recovery. Debates surround the value of emergency drills and post crisis counseling methods.
Keywords Crisis Management; Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD):; Crisis Intervention Team (CIT); Emergency Responders; Evacuation; Lockdown; Pandemic; Shelter in Place
School Safety: Crisis Management
What is Crisis Management?
Crisis management is a term that refers to the policies and procedures developed for handling emergency situations in public schools. The 1999 Columbine shootings, the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 and, more recently, the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, have prompted local and national governments to research the most effective ways to manage crises in schools.
In 2002, the Department of Safe and Drug-Free Schools together with the Harvard School of Public Health, the Prevention Institute, and the Education Development Center developed a program entitled, "The Three R's to Dealing with Trauma in Schools: Readiness, Response and Recovery" designed to assist schools with crisis management ("Taking the Lead," 2007). In 2003, Education Secretary Rodney Paige and the Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge launched a $30 million initiative providing grants to help schools buy safety equipment, train staff, parents and students in crisis management ("Taking the Lead," 2007).
Crisis often strikes fast so reaction time must be quick. This can only happen when procedures are in place and have been practiced. When a crisis occurs, schools must evaluate the crisis in order to decide whether to evacuate, lockdown, or use schools as a shelter (Poland, 2007). Because every school community is different, it is important for schools to practice a variety of crisis management procedures to determine if they are appropriate. Schools should then personalize their plans to the needs of their community. Plans also should accommodate the age of the student population, as elementary school students will behave differently than middle or high school students (U.S. Department of Education, 2003). The Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools recommends schools and emergency personnel conduct drills and practice scenarios until they have procedures memorized (Black, 2004). Leadership, preparation and communication are essential qualities in managing any type of emergency.
What Constitutes a Crisis?
Webster's Dictionary defines a crisis as an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending, especially one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome (as cited in U.S. Department of Education, 2003). This definition of a crisis is broad. It can range from incidents that only affect a few students to situations that halt an entire community. Crises can happen at any time, in any place, with and without warning. Incidents that qualify as crises include, but are not limited to:
• Bomb threat
• Chemical spill
• Natural disaster
• School violence
• Student or faculty death
• Terrorist attack
• Weather emergency
The one thing all crises have in common is the need for clear communication and quick decision-making. Regardless of the type of crisis, every crisis management plan should include procedures for prevention, preparation, response and recovery (U.S. Department of Education, 2003).
The first step in crisis management is prevention. Schools should conduct safety assessments of school property in order to determine if floor plans, lockdown procedures and evacuation routes need to be updated ("Taking the Lead," 2007). It is important to connect with local emergency responders to determine what types of problems are most common in the area and with students ("Taking the Lead," 2007). Emergency responders include law enforcement agents, firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
Prevention often means controlling a problem before it spreads or escalates. In some cases, such as with infectious diseases which can lead to a pandemic, prevention efforts can be as basic as teaching hygiene and providing anti-infection products such as hand sanitizer and anti-viral tissues (St. Gerard, 2007). Education is often the first step in crisis prevention.
Studies Conducted After Columbine
Following the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, which resulted in 15 fatalities and 23 injuries, the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education conducted a study of 37 school attacks. Their report, released in 2002, concluded that no common profile existed among attackers except for the fact that most of the perpetrators had been bullied or injured by others (Dillon, 2007). This report proves the value of fostering a positive school climate that welcomes diversity and teaches compassion (Dillon, 2007). The report recommends that schools focus on providing a supportive community that helps students mediate and resolve conflicts. Penalties should also be communicated and set forth to discourage students and parents from violent and threatening actions (Dillon, 2007). Dillon (2007) also cites that lawmakers in Pennsylvania considered putting schools on permanent lockdown to prevent violence in schools. In the wake of a school shooting, Platte Canyon High School in Colorado began a program in which parents volunteer to greet visitors at the door and log them in so that no intruder will enter the building unnoticed (Butler, 2007). Increasing police presence and installing metal detectors are other methods used to curb school violence (Dillon, 2007).
The Secret Service and Department of Education also discovered that, in about 80% of the incidents studied, at least one person knew what was going to happen (Dillon, 2007).
Recognizing a potential crisis, and responding quickly, can make a world of difference. Schools need to educate students and teachers how to recognize warning signs. Platte Canyon school district participates in the "Safe to Tell" program, which was initiated after the Columbine shootings (Butler, 2007). The program provides an anonymous hotline where students can report information regarding potential threats (Butler, 2007).
The Department of Education's guide, Practical Information on Crisis Planning encourages schools to consider every possible scenario and utilize every resource to help prevent crises or lessen their impact (U.S. Department of Education, 2003). Some suggestions include providing IDs for students and staff, conducting hurricane drills and taking an inventory of hazardous materials on school grounds (U.S. Department of Education, 2003).
Since not all crises can be prevented, the key to successful crisis management is preparation. Schools must make sure that they use all of the resources available: teachers, administrators, social workers, security officers, and emergency responders (U.S. Department of Education, 2003). Every responder must be familiar with the school's procedure for handling an emergency. Communication is essential to success. A chain of command should be established and methods of communication determined. A common vocabulary is essential. A crisis committee of faculty, parents and students can help better prepare schools for emergencies (Poland, 2007). This team of people should conduct research to determine what types of crises could occur in a given school and make recommendations as to how to handle them (U.S. Department of Education, 2003). The committee should also examine major issues from past years and evaluate how they were handled. This process ensures that schools regularly review and update procedures (Poland, 2007). The committee should make sure parent contact information is up to date and establish connections with local hospitals and emergency service personnel (Poland, 2007).
Crisis Management Materials
Poland (2007) states that the distribution of crisis management materials is a necessary step in making sure schools are prepared for emergencies. Materials may include phone trees, floor plans, evacuation routes, first aid instructions, and health awareness lists identifying persons with special needs. These...
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