By Jennifer Wohlleb
School safety isn’t something to worry about only in the hours between first bell and dismissal for the day. Whether it’s the classroom, a bus ride, a football game or a prom at the local country club, educators must have a safe schools plan to protect everyone involved.
“In schools we’re usually in a reactive stance, so it pays us to get a little ahead and start thinking about what could possibly happen,” said Cyril Wantland, a retired Jefferson County schools educator and a consultant with the Kentucky Center for School Safety.
Wantland and Kentucky State Police Capt. James Stephens led a workshop on event safety at the Safe Schools, Successful Students Conference last month.
They encouraged educators to follow their own three R’s: readiness, response and recovery.
“What do you do to prepare, what kind of plan do you have in place should an event occur, and how do you get back to doing business as normal,” Wantland asked. “Those are the three big issues you have to worry about, those are the three big issues you should focus your planning around.”
Schools are required by federal mandate to have a school safety plan, but Wantland urged districts to go about it smartly.
“Plan for what’s likely to happen in your district,” he said. “I wouldn’t waste time planning for a response to a tsunami in Glasgow, but if you’re in Bardwell and you sit on a fault line, you should plan for an earthquake response.”
Stephens urged educators to involve all of the players in the community who would respond in some type of incident.
“Don’t forget your janitors,” he said. “I say that everywhere I go because they are usually one of the most forgotten groups out there. Who knows your facilities better than them? Make sure they’re in your planning sessions, too.”
Training is another area that can often be overlooked in planning for an event response, Stephens said.
“Know what your role is,” Stephens said. “That’s what I see is the biggest failure; people just don’t know what their role is. We take for granted that people understand a lot of things … if you do not tell people exactly what to do in the event of an emergency, they will not do it.”
He said faculty meetings are good time to share information, go over responsibilities and assign duties.
“If someone can’t be there, e-mail the information,” Stephens said. “Before the big event, football game, homecoming, share the things people need to watch for, be aware of; review exits and evacuation routes, perimeters. What if you have a student who hates the football team and you have a big game coming up. Don’t you think the people who are going to be there should know about that?”
Stephens said that even after small events, educators should conduct after-action events.
“I always tell people ‘No feelings hurt. Leave your feelings at the door,” he said. “I learned this from a guy who does security: on an after-action review, use the 2x2 theory. Come in with two positive points and two negative points and let everyone share. If you don’t you’ll have someone come in and grandstand.”
Wantland said having the local fire department observe a school’s fire drill is a simple way to try that technique.
“Let them come back and give your whole staff, not just you, things that you did well, things that didn’t go quite as well as they should but you can tweak them, and things that didn’t go well at all that you need to go back to the drawing board,” he said.
Stephens said a little prevention will go a long way.
“The bottom line is this: you’re going to have snowball dances and proms coming up: how much time is spent making sure the flowers match, the tablecloths match?” he asked. “But how little time do we spend sending someone into the location to do a pre-event assessment? These are things you have to look at. Are there fire extinguishers? Have they been inspected? Are the exit lights lit? I could go through a whole list. Just make sure someone does an advance.”