While we may not like to think about it, traumatic events will happen at schools. These may include things such as fights, fires, bomb threats, and more serious acts of violence. It is too easy to say that it will never happen at our school and in our district. The reality is that it can happen in any community.
Make a General Plan Ahead of Time
When people are asked what they could have done better after a traumatic event in school, they typically say that they should have been more prepared. Each school should have an emergency response committee who looks over plans, makes sure they are still up to date, and adjusts them as needed. As important as it is to have fire and lockdown drills, what happens next if other emergencies happen?
The priority during an emergency event is clearly the safety of students and others within the school building. If a giant fight happens within the school, have a way to notify all staff on whether or not they need to shelter in place. You do not want more students heading into the area where a problem could be happening.
Counseling staff should be on alert to make sure that students with special needs and anxiety or other concerns are in a safe space. Go over locations where individuals may be able to go if they need a trusted adult. The key to success is to come up with a variety of situations which could happen and determine plans to utilize in the moment. All of these should then be communicated clearly to students, staff, and families.
Communication is Key
Once all members of the school are safe, it is critical to send information to families at home. Open lines of communication help everyone maintain trust and will once again feel safe in a building. If you are unsure of what happened or other details, be honest. Have a go-to person who will release information as it becomes available. Set a time and place where you can debrief those at home about what happened. Be ready with facts, information on support, how to prevent this in the future, and increase student safety during emergencies.
It’s also important for students to be able to report what they may have seen or heard before, during, or after the event. They may not feel comfortable to divulge information in front of their peers. Have an email which they are able to use to message them or something else who works for your school.
When students head back to school after an event, they must have counselors who they will be able to talk to. Have a designated area where they will be able to go to talk through what they saw, how they feel, and what they are worried about in the future. Allow teachers to check in with students in homeroom and give them a small survey where they can share their experience.
While schools are safe spaces most of the time, we must do our best for students to continue that feeling after a traumatic event in our buildings. What plans do your schools have in place to help students, faculty, staff, and families feel secure after something takes place? If you have experienced an event like this in your school, please share what you learned from it in the comments section below to help be better prepared for additional emergencies.