Each school day, schools are entrusted to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for students. Families and communities expect schools to keep their children and youths safe from threats (human-caused emergencies such as crime and violence) and hazards (natural disasters, disease outbreaks, and accidents). What steps can a school take to protect its campus?

Develop an emergency operations plan

The plan should address critical response practices, such as lockdowns, evacuations, parent-student reunification, emergency communications and how to mobilize mental health services. Larger school districts should have district-level and building level plans. Involve your first responders in the development of the plan. Plans should be reviewed annually and updated as necessary.

Create a crisis communications plan

Honest and timely communication with your community, first responders and staff when a school incident occurs is vital. This could include a mass notification system, social media, two-way radios and anonymous tip lines.

Train staff

The first line of defense is a vigilant staff. Training should include threat assessment, crime prevention, school security procedures and awareness and emergency response.

Conduct a site assessment

Examine campus facilities and grounds to identify security weaknesses, such as:

  • Unlocked doors
  • Ineffective communications systems
  • Line-of-sight issues for surveillance cameras
  • Broken fences or gates
  • Traffic patterns that impede access by emergency responders
  • Ineffective visitor management

Conduct drills and tabletop exercises

An emergency plan must be exercised in order to reach maximum usefulness. Drills should be practiced at all times of a school day. Tabletop exercises allow you to work through hypothetical scenarios to see if your written plan works in a “real” emergency. Involve your first responders when you can.

Implement a threat assessment team

Studies show students often engage in behaviors that concern others prior to incident. Threat assessment teams can identify and respond to at-risk students who show signs that they might harm themselves or others.

Form community partnerships

Strong relationships with community service providers, such as police, fire departments, emergency management, and local mental health experts, can help institutions craft and practice emergency plans, build a threat assessment team, and train staff.