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Does Your School Lack Emergency Planning? By John Dabell

Is your school ready for anything?

If there is one, big gaping hole in whole school training then it is emergency and contingency planning.

There is plenty of training for teaching and learning, curriculum, assessment, workload, wellbeing, etc but very little for when things go wrong.

An emergency, crisis or disaster, affecting the school community, could happen at any time, either in school, on a school visit or in the local community.

There is an awful lot that can go wrong and we need to be prepared but how many staff and children are?

This isn’t just something for senior management to know about, supposing they even do. Every member of the school community needs to be clued up and clued in.

[Tweet “How much emergency planning training have you had?”]

I don’t remember one training day in over 20 years where anyone has discussed what to do in disaster situations.

Would you know what your roles and responsibilities were and those of your colleagues?

Coordination, communication, welfare, media management, business continuity – who is doing what?

An emergency requires people to be hyper-focused and this requires hyper-planning for a spectrum of bad possibilities.

Training should be provided to ensure that everyone understands their role, they are confident to perform tasks assigned to them and have access to available resources and facilities.

Break Glass In Case Of Emergency

Schools do fire drills regularly and half the time staff know when they are going to happen. Some staff moan because their lessons get disrupted and children get excited because its time out.

They are not always treated seriously because they are expected. The failure might not be the drill but the culture and leadership around it.

[Tweet “Schools are well versed in fire drills but what about other emergency scenarios?”]

Children and staff might treat emergency drills more seriously if they widened to include other serious incidents.

What do we do if our school is caught up in a terrorist attack?

Do you have invacuation procedures in place? Some schools carry lockdown drills twice a year so why don’t all schools? Take a look at this video to see how Reinwood Junior School do it.

In emergencies people are more likely to respond reliably if they “are well trained and competent, take part in regular and realistic practice, have clearly agreed, recorded and rehearsed plans, actions and responsibilities.”

[Tweet “Schools are lacking emergency preparedness for a range of incidents.”]

School Emergency Preparedness involves contingency planning for critical incidents, risk and crisis management, health and safety, first aid and security.

Advice From Above

We do have official guidance available to us (last updated about three years ago) and this should be readily available.

There are some good links in here notably to a school emergency plan template and guidance from Nottinghamshire County Council. See also the classroom resources available from Essex County Council.

Many councils have adopted these guidelines and improved them so there is wide variation between schools.

Without training we run the huge risk of running around like headless chickens and making a situation worse. This could involve lives being lost.

[Tweet “Be honest, have you read your School Emergency Management Plan?”]

Don’t assume you know that others know what they are doing. If you don’t, chances are your colleagues won’t. Hand on heart, how many of us have read the School Emergency Management Plan? Would you know if it was comprehensive enough?

Would you know how incidents are grouped and what situations fall into what level?

Every year staff should be getting together to discuss and train for different incidents and situations that could happen. This is not only sensible but necessary. To pounce on a problem we need to know what to do and what not to do.

We just never know what will happen or how we will react. So why aren’t we taking the opportunity to simulate scenarios seriously?

What’s The Plan?

Training for a range of incidents is crucial and all staff need to know the procedures detailed in the Schools Emergency Plan.

Keeping your head in a crisis and responding effectively isn’t an instinct but comes with training. In a high-stress situation it is knowledge that comes to the rescue. If you have been trained what to do then you will know your job and be more in control.

Schools should devote regular training sessions throughout the year to bad-news scenarios so staff can act them out. This gives everyone the opportunity to intellectually and physically engage with incidents and how to handle them.

A little bit of training can go a long way because it takes people out of their comfort pits and injects challenge and confidence.

[Tweet “Emergency planning builds deliberate teamwork, collective wisdom and resilience.”]

Hypothetical situations have to have buy-in. There is nothing worse than someone mumbling “that would never happen here” but that’s dangerous talk. Anything is possible. Every school is at risk. Every school is vulnerable.

Follow The Seven Ps

Devoting time to risk and emergency planning allows a school to discover weaknesses in their responses and approaches. It helps us to consider how we can prevent, prepare, respond and recover.

[Tweet “Emergency plans need to be practiced on a regular and ongoing basis.”]

When we rehearse for emergencies we find gaps in our knowledge. Play-acting is a serious business when it involves human lives.

Thinking through practicalities helps everyone improve their problem-solving skills. When we think negatively this helps to drive positive responses so we formulate and deliver more effective responses.

If there is one area where over-preparation is a necessary then it is emergency planning. Making decisions are guided by knowledge and groupthink so we don’t get in a spin.  The Seven ‘P’s saves lives: “Proper prior planning and preparation prevents poor performance.”

Emergency procedures in schools should be a part of a school’s risk assessment. Has your school prepared you for if the unthinkable happens? My guess is that you’ll have the paperwork in place but not the contingency sim training.


Cabinet Office Guidance for Preparing for Emergencies.

National Counter Terrorism Office guidance Recognising the terrorist threat

Security Service MI5 Threat Levels

Children need training too and need to be heard. If you haven’t seen it, take a look at the Save the Children Take Care programme, a resource designed to build children’s resilience to disasters.


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