Prep School – Getting Students Ready for an Emergency
As students of all ages head back to school this fall, their minds—and their parents’ minds—are no doubt on hyper-drive pondering things like new class schedules, after-school activities, notebooks and folders, syllabi, locker combinations … the list goes on. But one very important item on everyone’s back-to-school checklist should be emergency preparedness, and it often gets pushed to the bottom of the list.
Imagine for a moment that your child—whether in kindergarten or college—is met with an emergency or disaster situation while at school. You will most likely not be with them when a crisis occurs; but wouldn’t you feel a little better in that moment knowing that you have discussed what to do in such emergencies? And won’t your child feel safer and more secure knowing that there is a pre-determined and rehearsed plan being enacted to lessen the effects of the emergency as quickly as possible?
The solution is simple—just have the conversation. Here are a few talking points that might help guide your discussion.
- Does your child’s school have an emergency or crisis plan? Check the school’s website or any literature you might have received, and if you can’t find it, call the school and ask for details.
- Remind your child of the basics of fire safety (touch the doorknob before entering and stop, drop and roll), earthquake safety (get under large, heavy piece of furniture or stop, drop and hold), triple-digit heat safety (stay hydrated and in the shade), tornado safety (have a predetermined safe spot), and all other types of emergency or disaster.
- In case normal modes of communication are down, discuss as a family who will be responsible for picking children up; or if your children are of driving age, discuss a central location for your family to meet in case of emergency, and in case going home isn’t an option.
Just talking about what might happen in a crisis situation will increase your child’s level of preparation immensely. In fact, Shelby Slater, emergency preparedness coordinator for the University of Memphis, says communication is his main focus in preparation for, and during, a crisis.
“Communication for us is always a big deal, and it’s the No. 1 thing we think about when a disaster or emergency occurs,” explains Slater. “Our messaging must be quick and accurate or the results could be catastrophic.”
Slater is responsible for crisis planning for the university and looking at all of the “what-ifs” that could occur on campus or in an area that might affect campus. His job is to “prepare, respond and recover,” which he does under the guidance of a crisis management plan that is reviewed and updated annually. Slater works with other school staff to distribute emergency preparedness literature and coordinate training sessions several times per year.
“A plan is very ineffective if you don’t practice and train based on the plan,” he says. “And the main thing we try to impress upon students is situation awareness. Don’t walk alone, don’t leave your laptop on a table and expect it to be there when you come back … common sense things like that. We don’t want students to be scared. This is a learning environment, but they’re here to have fun as well. We just want them to be aware.”
In addition to a school-wide crisis plan, the University of Memphis has a crisis management team in place that is comprised of approximately 35 staff members from several different work areas. The university also has its own multi-modal communication system called TigerText that can inform students, staff and faculty of an emergency by a variety of means.
Schools throughout Shelby County are preparing for emergencies and crises, and knowledge of their plans is power. Ask your child’s teachers or administrators about emergency preparedness or evacuation plans, or encourage your students to do so. It will give you peace of mind, a better understanding of what might occur, and it could even save a life.