Whether the Coronavirus hits the U.S. or not, now is the time schools and school districts should be dusting off their Pandemic Response, Student/Family Reunification, and Continuity of Operations plans in order to prepare for the worst. Schools are required by FEMA and the Department of Education to not only have these plans in place, but to train on implementation of them so they are familiar with response actions.
As a school safety professional who had to work through a major school closure during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, I can assure you that if pre-planning is not in place, you will not be able to effectively work through a pandemic response in your school or school district. If a plan is not in place with local health agencies, it is nearly impossible to work with the WHO or CDC once a pandemic hits. A communications plan internally within the school or district, and externally with parents, is also essential. Lack of communications will create panic, and parents will converge on schools to pick up their kids if there is a panic response should a pandemic surface. One sick child will create this type of panic response. I saw this in my own schools in 2009. Once that panic response starts, the school administration is in a completely reactive mode and it is difficult to maintain control of the school and student accountability.
Schools should be practicing Social Distancing and pre-incident outreach for Universal Precautions in school and at home right now. Establishing the school and district Tipping Point, Devolution of Authority, Lines of Succession, Remote Learning, HIPPA notification regulations, Continuity of Operations Planning, and Return to Normalcy should be topics of discussion at the school and district levels today. If a school is not familiar with these terms, then they probably don’t have a Pandemic Response Plan in place. There is an expectation that you have a plan, so there is liability if you don’t. Only a Superintendent or Head of School can close a school, so understanding the concepts of Area Command and Unified Command are essential for proper decision making. A simple tabletop exercise today can prevent a panic response and unnecessary school closure tomorrow.
A Pandemic Response is no different than a school response to a major flu bug. We spend a lot of time talking about Active Assailant Response to schools, and rightfully so because we can never stop preparing for that worst case scenario. But the reality is there is a .0001% chance of an armed assailant coming to a school in the U.S. on any given day. There is a 100% chance we’ll have a flu season affecting schools every year, so we should prepare for that too. No other emergency incident gives us a four to six-week notification that it is going to hit us. We should treat that warning as a gift, and use the time to prepare. If you try to buy N95 Respirator Masks, alcohol-free hand sanitizer, and other supplies needed to work through a Pandemic once it hits, you won’t be able to find them.
A panic response and unnecessary school closure is not a desired result in schools, as our job is to keep schools open as long as it is safe to do so. Preparing today will help you tomorrow. If you don’t have plans in place, give me a call and I’ll get you headed in the right direction. My contact information is at www.SchoolSafetyOps.com. We’re all in this together and planning today will help us tomorrow.
Stay safe, and stay healthy Gatekeepers…