Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Is Your Child's School Prepared?

Whenever I enter a new building, I automatically do two things. The first is obvious: find the location of the nearest bathroom.  The second is to visually locate any and all exits.  It makes me feel safer to know where the exits are, whether there's a reason to use them or not.  It's a "just in case" thing.   

Emergency planning is, unfortunately, not a high priority for most schools.  Parents need to know this.  Many schools go through the required fire drills, tornado drills, etc.  Some schools have fancy flip charts that are immediately put into a teacher's desk and forgotten. 

There's just not really a budget for emergency planning, and if there is some sort of organized effort in a district, the ball gets dropped when the people pushing for the planning retire or move on.  Nobody wants to consider that emergencies might happen. There's a sense that to do so will invite disaster, and schools are supposed to be happy places where stuff like that never, ever happens. Until it does.

I am not trying to bash public schools in any way.  Let's get that out of the way.  Public schools do the best that they can in spite of all the crap they endure in the form of standardized testing and lawmakers who are more interested in being re-elected than in doing what is right.  After Columbine, schools all over the place briefly got serious about school safety, but it's been awhile.   Interest fades, and we all fall into the "It will never happen to me" mentality.  Emergency planning means that you consider that it CAN happen, and you have a plan that keeps everyone safe.  Sticking one's head in the sand about safety is not healthy for anyone, least of all the students who are in the hands of a school for eight hours a day.

Parents can do something about this. 

Go to your child's school and ask about the emergency plan. You may be surprised by the answers you get, but at least this can be a starting point.  Are any school personnel trained in NIMS(National Incident Management System)?  How many people in the building know CPR/First Aid?   Does the school only use the primary evacuation route for fire drills or have they practiced the secondary route in case the first exit path is blocked?  Ask about where the evacuation site will be and if there is a secondary evacuation site. Ask what the procedures are for a shelter-in-place versus a lock down. Ask what the pickup procedure will be if there is an emergency.  (For example, will you need two forms of ID before your child can leave with you?)

If you have children with special needs, ask what procedures are in place for them as well.  How the heck are those students getting out of the building?  What are the plans for evacuating the students who are non-ambulatory, for instance, wherever they may be?  In addition, there are quite a few children who simply cannot tolerate the sound of a fire alarm or the flashing lights that some alarms have.  If the child has a seizure due to the lights, what are the plans for that?  If the loud sounds cause a meltdown, what are the plans for that?

Have I freaked everyone out?  Good.  I'll stop now. 

Now you will all be thinking about this, and you'll ask your kids about it.  Then you will ask the teacher, the principal, then up the food chain, until maybe, just maybe, everyone starts thinking about this stuff in a more systematic, organized fashion.  This is some thing that ALL schools can embrace, that involves students and parents too.


  1. This is good information. I found out the hard way the first time the school lost my son. We all looked at each other and went, ??? Now we have a system in place for him.

    I have no idea what they do for the rest of the kids. I shall have to go and find out. Thank you.

    1. I have to keep harping on it around here, it seems, so I thought I would share!

  2. This post makes me really grateful for my daughter's awesomely prepared preschool. I will ask about a secondary exit route - good point. Everything else they have covered. PHEW! -JD @

  3. Good post! It's something many parents (me included) probably never consider... until they have to! Thanks for posting. Have you considered sending it to your local newspaper?

  4. This is very thought provoking but more in the kind of freaking me out way! (Still recovering from my mother's fire drills and being instructed on pushing mattresses out of windows because we will have to jump). I guess I'm an ostrich who'd rather leave that as a bridge for another day. :)


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