The Four Phases of Emergency Management
To ensure that the protocols align with the structure, policies and activities of emergency management and public safety officials, local education agencies and institutions of higher education should be familiar with the four interconnected phases of emergency management: Prevention-Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery. These should be incorporated into all school, district, or campus emergency management plans. The phases are defined as:
- Prevention-Mitigation: Identifying all potential hazards and vulnerabilities and reducing the potential damage they can cause; Schools must take steps to ensure the safest possible locations for students to learn regardless of the hazards that may impact their environment. School district personnel have no control over some of the hazards that may impact them such as earthquakes or school violence, nevertheless, they must take actions to minimize or mitigate the impact of such incidences. Schools can ease the impact of certain disasters more likely to occur in their area. Bookcases can be secured so they won’t fall during an earthquake; students and staff can be trained on what to do in case of tremors. Fights cannot always be controlled, nor can bomb threats or school shootings. Regardless, school district personnel can implement policies and violence prevention programs, as well as, other steps to improve the culture and climate of school campuses.
- Preparedness: Collaborating with community partners to develop plans and protocols to prepare for the possibility that the identified hazards, vulnerabilities or emergencies will occur; “Preparation is less costly than learning through tragedy.” As areas of the country face certain seasons (hurricane, tornado, fire, flood), personnel assignments are essential in ensuring tracking of events, identifying solutions for problems and expediting deliveries of necessary supplies. This assignment would also include identifying sources of mutual aid, obtaining portable or temporary classrooms, answering health and safety questions and securing buses and bus drivers. Schools may be used as shelters, it is important that state educational agencies (SEA’s) work closely with district school personnel to designate parts of the schools or other facility to be used as a shelter. One of the most important facets of this phase is practice. Planning is crucial but in the absence of hands-on practice, fear and panic can alter excellent plans. By practicing situational disasters through table-top and full-scale exercises, relationships with first responders are enhanced; therefore, the difficulty of the actual disaster will be eased by familiarity. These drills improve the thought process of what works, given the particular school design. As reported by a small school district, while practicing an active shooter drill, with students and staff locked in their rooms, staff was instructed to slide a colored card under the door into the hallway to indicate the class was safe. Once safety was indicated, law enforcement personnel slid identification under the door and students evacuated. Without this practice drill the staff would not have been prepared when two weeks later an active shooter entered their campus
- Response: Working closely with first responders and community partners to effectively contain and resolve an emergency in, or around, a school or campus; Regardless of the amount of planning and practice that goes into preparing for emergency, staff members need to plan to be surprised. Members of the crisis team must know that there will be an element of surprise which will be accompanied by confusion. In order to minimize confusion to the greatest degree possible, the plan must be followed after quickly assessing the situation. The magnitude of the crisis needs to be determined and the leaders need to be aware of the situation. During a disaster, peer-to-peer relationships are critical. Communication is essential to reestablish these relationships. Staff will account for the location and well-being of each person, messages must be disseminated regarding the conditions of the schools and the determination of basic needs is priority. A predetermined communication process should be established to make this process seamless. This should include traditional methods (e.g., phone lines, cell phones) and non-traditional methods (hand-held radios). With proper training, district, school staff, and students will respond appropriately within seconds. An immediate, appropriate response depends on a plan with clearly articulated roles and responsibilities. Do not delay in calling emergency responders.
- Recovery: Teaming with community partners to assist students and staff in the healing process, and restore a healthy and safe learning environment following an emergency event. Effective management is essential in a time of emergency. State Educational Agencies and Local Educational Agencies have expertise in students and student learning, but most likely do not have expertise in emergency or crisis management. It is helpful to establish guidelines and processes for local schools to identify which activities they could effectively manage after the disaster and which activities should be outsourced to other entities to ensure successful completion. Working with community partners during and after a major disaster is fundamental. Depending on the severity of the disaster, students may be displaced. Local Schools will need to develop tools, processes, and services to provide seamless integration back into an academic environment. The recovery following the Hurricanes, Katrina and Rita have been filled with failures that have been “rampant and profound.” “Recovery inadequacies are far more grave than the failures of the initial response.” As of September 1, 2008 there were still 20,000 displaced families living in temporary shelters. Students had poor access to schools. Awareness of how a disaster affects children is essential. The destruction of the World Trade Center was highly publicized, it was near impossible to hide the images displayed on television from children all over the United States. A study of children who experienced indirect exposure to 9/11 through the media showed increased levels of worry and posttraumatic stress at levels comparable to those children experiencing the disasters directly. Recovery must be planned for in the preparedness phase. The determination of staff roles and responsibilities during this phase is critical. District-level counselors may train school staff to assess the emotional needs of students to determine needs for intervention. Interviews of outside counseling agencies during the planning stage are vital to ensure established costs and services have been predetermined.