How to Navigate Emergency Drills

Let’s talk about how to successfully navigate emergency drills with your special education students!

I am not sure if there are any special education teachers and support staff who look forward to emergency drills.  Anyone? I didn’t think so.

Emergency drills typically come as a surprise event to staff and students.  They can sometimes be loud and scary, and they totally mess up our schedules.  Some of my students really do not enjoy emergency drills but I have found that making some adjustments and preparing students the morning of the drill makes a huge difference in how the drill goes!

Here are some tricks and tools I use when we have a scheduled emergency drill at my school:

Social Scripts and Visuals

This is a photo of some social scripts for emergency drills.  One is for fire drill, one is for tornado drill, another for earthquake drill, and another for a lockdown drill.
This is how I prepare my students for an emergency drill.  It is a first/then schedule.

Luckily, my school is great about notifying the staff about the days that we will have an emergency drill.  They will sometimes even let us know around what time the drill will be.  This is great for planning our day.

I always start my morning meeting the day of a drill by preparing my students for the drill.  We spend 10-15 minutes talking about the emergency drill.  I start by reading the corresponding social story from The Autism Helper.  Next, I love video modeling, so I always play one or two videos showing my students what is expected of them during an emergency drill.  Some of my favorite emergency drill videos are:

To learn more about video modeling and how to use it in the classroom, read this post from blogger, Gina. 

Finally, I change our first/then schedule to reflect when the emergency drill will occur.  This is our daily schedule Google Slide that I project onto our whiteboard throughout each day so my students are already familiar with this.  I have found that this helps decrease anxiety and behaviors before and during the emergency drills.

My Google Slide is from Engaging Early Learners and customized by me.


Sensory Materials and Fidget Toys

This is a photo of two boxes full of sensory tools and fidget toys used for emergency drills.
This is a photo of two pairs of noise cancelling headphones used as sensory tools for emergency drills.

My class typically has to go outside during emergency drills.  Depending on the type of drill, we are outside for 10-45 minutes.  My students get restless and bored during this time so my assistants and I always make sure to pack enough sensory tools such as noise-canceling headphones, fidget toys, or preferred reinforcers for this time.  We keep them in containers and pass them out as students are waiting outside.

Carpet Samples

This is a photo of a stack of carpet samples we use for emergency drills.
This is a photo of my students sitting on their carpet samples outside during an emergency drill.

Something so simple as a carpet sample increases my class’ success during emergency drills. I have found that using these from a local carpet store really helps my students stay in our designated emergency drill area in the grass outside for extended periods of time.  The carpet samples help make the drill more comfortable for my students as the grass can sometimes be cold or wet.

Go Easy on Yourself

This is a photo of the wagon I use during emergency drills.  The wagon carries all of the materials that help my students through an emergency drill plus the teacher materials I need to carry.
Here is a photo of the full wagon we use during our emergency drills.

Emergency drills can be stressful on us, too.  We have so many teacher materials to remember on top of the materials I mentioned above, plus we have to keep track of students AND keep them safe.  How do we do it all?!  To go easy on yourself (and save your back), I recommend getting a big, sturdy wagon such as this one.  I use the wagon year-round and it has come in so handy for carrying all of the things during our emergency drills.  I recommend getting the wagon ready the morning before the emergency drill so you are ready to pull it along.  You can also have a student help pull it during the drill – especially if they are anxious or over-stimulated (it will double as some heavy work!).

In my wagon pictured above are the following materials:

  • Disaster bucket (provided by my school)
  • Teacher clipboard – for attendance and to notify admin if any students are injured/missing
  • Carpet samples
  • Basket with noise-canceling headphones
  • Two boxes of sensory tools and fidget toys

Try to remember that emergency drills take time to perfect.  The more you practice and prepare, the better they will go.  After each drill, take time to reflect with your team to see what went well and what could have gone differently. Finally, it’s always a good time to think about real emergencies and how to prepare for those.  Blogger Jen has some wonderful ideas on planning for emergencies in this post.

Thank you for taking the time to read about navigating emergency drills!  What do you use during emergency drills that helps your students? Let me know in the comments below.


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