The desks are arranged, the pencils are sharpened, and stacks of syllabi are waiting to be dispersed. Your classroom is ready for the new school year. Or is it?
When most of us think of preparing for the new school year, we think about who our students will be, what units we will cover, how many snow days we will get. Many of us aren’t thinking about preparing our classes for emergencies. Yet emergencies may very well come up. Are you ready?
Below are some of the most common emergencies that might arise in your classroom.
With hundreds and often thousands of people in the building, medical emergencies can sometimes arise at school. These may include emergencies stemming from falls, allergic reactions, seizures, diabetic issues, and more. Prepare for these types of emergencies by arranging your room to minimize bottlenecks that could create tripping hazards (yes, I know this is easier said than done in smaller classrooms, but we do our best), reviewing your student rosters for information relating to known health issues and making a list of students who may have any (kept private, of course), and having emergency numbers for the clinic, main office, and security close to the phone. If your school has training on common medical issues and treatments (for example, training on how to use an EpiPen), make sure you complete those trainings in a timely fashion. Doing so could literally save a life.
Weather, Fire, and Environmental
While relatively uncommon in many parts of the country, emergencies connected to weather, fire, and environmental factors do sometimes come up. Depending on where you are located, these types of emergencies may occur more frequently. Your school should have emergency protocols in place for these types of events in the form of interior shelters, evacuation routes, and air flow management. Make sure you are familiar with those protocols before the school year begins. Do you know where your assigned tornado shelter is and how to get there quickly? Do you have the evacuation route posted and clearly visible in your classroom (ideally by the door to the room?). Do you know what the school’s plan is in case of air quality issues that affect the HVAC system? If not, make sure you ask someone who knows. Take some time to acquire any resources you need before you need them.
Weather, Fire, and Environmental Emergencies
- Minimize narrow walkways
- Know your students’ health concerns and symptoms
- Keep a list of emergency numbers handy
- Complete medical trainings offered by your school
- Know where your designated tornado shelter is
- Know and post the emergency evacuation route for your classroom
- Know the protocols for other emergencies such as earthquakes or air quality issues
- Know the contact person to reach out to with questions or concerns
Sometimes a school faces potential dangers from the broader community: a suspect robs a bank down the street from your school, a hit and run driver has been spotted in your area, etc. Although the threat to your school itself may be minimal, administrators may take extra security measures to be safe. These might include moving everyone inside the building from trailers, athletic fields, and courtyards and securing the building from outside access. Prepare for these types of events by knowing the correct terminology or code, having a plan for quickly relocating your students inside, and ensuring you know the process for other teachers’ classes as well. If students with classes in the trailers, for example, are moved inside, will your classroom become a shared space for some of the displaced students? Does instruction continue during these types of events or are you expected to stop the lesson? The more you know in advance, the more seamlessly you can implement the appropriate response in the event the need arises.
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Perhaps the danger that lurks most ominously in everyone’s mind is the type of danger that can throw your school into full lockdown. These types of dangers often involve a threat that is inside the building. It goes without saying that we hope none of you ever experience this type of danger, but it also, unfortunately, goes without saying that we all need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Although every school and district is different, there are some common steps we can all take to prepare. As with all other types of emergencies, know the terminology and codes used at your school. If your school uses different alarm sounds for different emergencies, make sure you can identify each sound and its meaning. Check your room for ways to secure your door. Do you have a locking system? If so, consider keeping your door closed and locked at all times, even during normal instruction. Do you have large furniture you can preposition close to the door so it can be quickly deployed as a barrier in an emergency? What location can you move students to within your room to be farthest from doors and windows? Do students know to stay off their phones and devices during an emergency?
What happens if you remain in lockdown for an extended period of time? While the emergency itself is often resolved fairly quickly, it’s not uncommon for police to take several hours to secure the building and open classroom doors. If you have students with medical issues like diabetes, do you have way to help them moderate their sugar levels?
- Know the terminology and codes for external dangers
- Have a plan to move students inside quickly and efficiently
- Understand where displaced students will be located
- Know if you are to continue or stop instruction
- Know the terminology, codes, and alarm sounds for lockdown protocols
- If possible, keep your door closed and locked as part of daily instruction
- Preposition large furniture close to doors to serve as a barrier
- Make a plan for relocating students as far away from doors and windows as possible
- Discuss the importance of staying off of phones and other technology
- Know your student’s health issues and, when possible, keep a small supply of resources such as candy for diabetics, to ensure they can stay healthy during a prolonged event
An Ounce of Prevention Goes a Long Way
Most, if not all, schools should have a very clear set of procedures to follow in the event of emergencies, from medical to fire, environmental to lockdown. Make sure you know what those procedures are and who the primary contact person is for each type of issue. This blog is meant to get everyone thinking—before an issue arises—about preparing their classroom beyond the first few weeks of school. However, it is imperative that each of you review your school and district’s own policies and develop a plan that is appropriate to your particular circumstances.
While this content is considerably less glamorous than designing your bulletin boards or room layout, anticipating and preparing for emergencies before they become emergencies will help keep you and your students safe all year long.
Download an Emergency Preparedness Checklist below.