Emergency Planning Safety in Schools
When emergency planning for a school, it’s important to have the correct focus. They call it emergency planning for a reason – you’re planning to manage an emergency. You are not planning to run an exercise or tick a few boxes.
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Are you focusing on the right things?
True compliance goes beyond the legal requirements and standards. It looks for the best ways to make your building, systems and people safe. For schools – the institutions that instruct and care for our children – this safety is paramount.
Focus on getting your response planned right. The first step to this is ensuring that you are following evacuation shelter and lockdown best practices. And of course, that you are complying with the Australian Standard.
Next, explore ways to mature your plan. Think specifically about how you can further reduce risks on top of your original procedure and the Standards. If you identify a gap, look at how you can fill it. This may be incorporating elements to support active armed offender or terrorist guidelines.
The importance of flexible planning
As you plan and design an approach to mitigate against the foreseeable risks for your school, consider how you can keep your plan flexible. Flexibility caters for a myriad of foreseeable risks. Additionally, a flexible plan will work effectively at any time of the day or week, whether it is a school day or not. It will work on a ‘normal’ day and during sports days or fetes.
The key to an effective plan is having an entire team trained to do jobs rather than specific individuals. This ensures a variety of combinations of staff. You’ll never be short of wardens or communication officers. Or alternatively, have too many chief wardens or fire wardens.
Furthermore, this flexibility allows you to manage different emergencies with the same response structure.
One of the more common response structures includes evacuation, shelter-in-place and lockdown response procedures. You may also utilise one of the above responses or a separate procedure for active armed offender scenarios.
An evacuation involves directing staff, students and visitors to the evacuation assembly area and/or restricting access to areas of the premises. If you manage or operate a larger school, you may want the flexibility to manage a staged evacuation, whereby you evacuate the danger area and not necessarily the whole campus. Or, where you evacuate the entire campus starting with most at-risk areas. Your evacuation procedure should also consider how to ensure students are not moved closer to or past danger areas.
A shelter in place may be implemented for external emergencies that require people to stay indoors. These situations include hazardous weather conditions, hazardous material spills, gas leaks, air quality issues and threatening animals.
A lockdown is utilised for an external personal threat type emergency. It may also be utilised during a civil disturbance or a security incident. A lockdown usually involves securing doors and windows, closing blinds, turning off lights and completing other tasks to secure an area.
Australia has guidelines for active threat scenarios, such as an active armed offender. (An armed offender is a person who is actively engaged in killing or attempting to cause serious harm to multiple people. An armed offender demonstrates their intention to continue to do so while having access to additional potential victims).
An active threat response requires all staff to be trained and ready to implement a procedure without the support of wardens during an emergency. The primary objective of this response planning should be to minimise the offender’s access to victims. Therefore, you should develop and practise strategies with school staff aimed at staff and students escaping, while also isolating the offender.
ANZCTC guidelines and layered security
Crowded areas such as assembly areas and playgrounds are locations that are easily accessible by large numbers of people on a predictable basis. This increases the likelihood of hazards and requires extra care when preparing for potential emergency situations. Additionally, crowded places pose a broad range of security challenges. These challenges are identified as attractive targets by those wishing to engage in terrorism, as well as disgruntled or mentally impaired individuals.
To overcome these challenges, you should incorporate layered security. Simply put, the idea of layered security is to implement several measures simultaneously to ensure the most effective security for the area. For example, you may protect a playground from dangerous individuals with:
- A high fence
- Sufficient staff on playground monitoring duty
- Good lighting
- Landscaped open plan areas (removing easy hiding places)
- Trained staff to deal with these emergencies
Belt and braces approach
Schools will always represent an area where you can never do too much to ensure safety and security. To ensure your systems and plans work effectively, you must manage staff accountability with processes that account for those evacuated.
You should also ensure all staff are trained in emergency response procedures with as many as possible trained in warden roles to support a flexible response. This will provide them with the best basis of understanding for how to respond to emergencies. They’ll know how to execute your school’s specific procedures and processes, how to evacuate areas and how to restrict access to danger.
Training also prepares your staff to deal with the aftermath of an emergency. They will know how to pass on relevant information to police officers or emergency responders, comfort individuals and account for the safety of everyone under their care.
Schools do not have the luxury of settling for ‘safe enough.’ However, emergency preparedness can be easily attained if you know where to start.