Fire. Active Shooter. Medical Emergency. Bomb Threat. Earthquake. Tornado.
Do those words make your heart skip a beat? Me, too, friends. The fact is, as educators, we have to be prepared for anything that may come our way, including emergencies. Our job includes keeping our students safe in emergency situations. To help ensure our students are as safe as possible at school, advocate for their needs and educate your team on what to do in emergency scenarios. Here are some of the steps I do to prepare my team for emergencies.
Disclaimer: Always follow your district’s protocol during emergency situations and drills.
Consider the Needs of your Students
This seems pretty basic, but sometimes we forget that our caseloads change year after year, and therefore so do the needs of our students. Each year, start out with a list of each of your students and write down any needs they may have for the drills and emergencies your district prepares you for. Think through them all – tornados, earthquakes, active shooter, fires, bomb threats, etc. I’ve found for my district there are likely three scenarios those emergencies typically turn into: Shelter in Place, Shelter in a Designated Location, and Evacuate. For each student, write down any needs they have medically and physically for each scenario. Also consider any sensory needs or comfort items you could provide to make emergencies less stressful. Your district may be different than mine, so consider your scenarios and needs carefully.
Consider the Needs of your Staff
This one gets overlooked quite a bit. What are the needs of your staff in your classroom? Do any of them have medical conditions that need consideration? Diabetics? Asthmatics? Pregnancy? Lifting restrictions? Do you have an assistant that is cool and calm in all emergencies? What if you have one that panics? All of these things play into how you prepare to care for your students and staff in an emergency. Take this into consideration when planning for your scenarios and what you will need.
Be Part of the Team
Sometimes our students and their needs are overlooked when preparing for emergencies. Be part of the conversation! Advocate for their needs. Share the information you’ve gathered with your administration and educate them on what you need to keep your students safe. Share the student information with your assistants and general education teachers so they can prepare as much as possible, too. Ask to be part of your building’s emergency team or consult with them about how best to evacuate or take shelter. Talk to the school’s nurse and address medical concerns. Take notes on what to do and share them with appropriate staff members.
Create an Emergency Bag
Grab a cheap, brightly colored backpack or two and make an emergency bag for your staff and students. Label it and train your staff to take it on all drills and emergency situations. Remember the list we made of sensory needs and comfort items for your students? This is where you keep them. Predetermine with your nurse and administration who is responsible for keeping emergency medicines and medical supplies for your students.
Here’s some items to think about adding to your bag:
- Class list
- Copy of emergency procedures
- Copy of emergency contacts for each student
- Copy of medical emergency action plans (allergy, asthma, seizure, etc)
- Copy of your schedule
- Visual reminders on a lanyard
- Water bottle(s)
- Hand Sanitizer
- Small first aid kit
- Vomit Absorber (puke powder)
- Noise-reduction headphones
- Crayons/Coloring Book
- Matchbox cars/trucks
- Sticker book
- Long-lasting snacks/candy
- Balloons/inflatable beach ball
- Travel games/card games
Learn from Drills
Take a few minutes and debrief with your staff after drills. What worked well? What didn’t work at all? How can you plan better for next time? Did it take 5 minutes to get Bobby out of his stander and into his wheelchair to get him out of the building? Were you able to provide shelter quickly for your medically fragile student and protect her ventilator tubes from falling debris? Was your student who uses a walker able to move quickly enough or do you need a faster method? Were you supposed to be silent but your students were loud? Did the elevators lock during the fire drill and you couldn’t get your student who is wheelchair-bound down the stairs alone? Or was the wheelchair stair glide missing in action? Did your staff know how to use it? Think through it all and write down concerns and address them with your emergency team, administration, and nurse as needed.
Train Your Staff
Staff training should go beyond how to handle behaviors and run centers. It’s absolutely vital that you take time to talk to your staff about what to do in an emergency situation. Chances are, if your room is anything like mine, when the fire alarm goes off your caseload is scattered throughout the building or even in different buildings. It may be up to your staff and general education teachers to know what to do for your students in an emergency. Ask that your assistants be included in basic first aid and CPR/AED training if your district offers it. If your district doesn’t offer it, brainstorm with your nurse and administration on how to get you and your assistants trained. I give my staff a classroom handbook each year that includes emergency information and medical needs of each student (all marked confidential).
Safety always comes first in our classrooms. Due to the unique needs of our students, our preparation for emergencies may look different than general education classrooms. It’s ok to practice evacuating or taking shelter on your own without a drill, especially if you are nervous about meeting the needs of your students. Invite your administration or emergency team to watch and offer suggestions. Having a plan always eases my mind, so I plan for the worst and hope for the best. In the end, I know that I’m always doing my best to keep my students safe and that’s all I can do. Stay safe, friends.