Working Together to Make Our Schools Safer

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5 inexpensive ways to prepare for emergencies

By Michele Faehnle

Making our schools a safe place is a priority for all staff, yet the planning, training and expense can be overwhelming. Implementing new safety measures, reviewing the school safety plan and completing practice drills is key to preparedness and teamwork during an emergency. This year our school took a fresh look at our school safety and with the advice of our school resource officer, implemented simple ways to help prepare our staff for an emergency. Below are five ways we have been able to improve our school safety and can help your school be better prepared for an emergency — without breaking the bank.

  • Form a school safety committee. Create an interdisciplinary team that involves teachers, the school nurse, school counselor, resource officer, principal, and parents. Our team meets monthly to review our current emergency plans, discuss new ideas, and plan safety training for our entire staff.
  • Review your emergency plan. Most schools have written emergency plans, but many times the binders sit on the shelf! It is important to review the school’s emergency plans at least once a year. Make sure the staff assigned to help in various roles such as the Incident Command general staff, medical team, student care team, and site safety leader know their jobs and the chain of command during an emergency. Our school transitioned to the Navigate Prepared App this year, which gives all of our staff flip charts to follow in a wide variety of emergencies, includes interactive floor plans, offers real time student accountability/student check in for use in drills and emergencies, and gives a road map for reunification of students with their parents.
  • Partner with your local fire and police department. Not only can they be a great resource for safety questions, first responders can provide you with valuable training opportunities. Many fire departments offer low cost CPR/AED, First Aid training and Stop the Bleed classes (training to empower lay people to take life saving action to stop severe bleeding). Our local police department works with our school for student safety classes (D.A.R.E., internet safety, home alone safety classes) as well as works with our school safety committee to provide ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) drills, and medical emergency drills.
  • Equip your school to screen visitors. Keeping track of who is in the building at all times is an important piece of safety. This year, both public and Catholic schools in our city have implemented the School Safe ID visitor management software system. This software scans each visitor’s drivers license data against the national sex offender registry to ensure optimum classroom safety. Schools can also flag and make notes on visitors involved in situations that require discretion and privacy, such as a childhood custody issue. (A new grant is available through the company for new schools and districts to receive a free kiosk needed to use this safety measure. Find out if your school is eligible.)
  • Provide staff with first aid/emergency supplies. In addition to our general first aid supplies, at our recent staff emergency preparedness training, each teacher packed up an “emergency bucket” which contained bleeding control supplies, splinting materials, and other things that can be used in a lockdown or medical emergency situation. Each 5-gallon bucket was packed with gloves, gauze sponges, bandaids, a SWAT tourniquet, splits, a biohazard bag, sports tape, surgical masks, trauma shears, instant ice packs, ace wraps, granola bars, a flashlight, wasp spray (to spray at intruders) and toilet paper (the bucket can also be used as an emergency latrine). These emergency buckets are in every classroom and accessible to the teachers if they are ever locked in their classroom for an extended period of time.

To help with the cost of emergency preparedness supplies and training, many states offer grants for school safety initiatives that include private schools. Federal grant opportunities such as the Bureau of Justice Assistance FY Student, Teachers and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Grant helps schools improve school security with funding for training opportunities and school threat assessments.

The NCEA supports acting with collaboration on “better ways to keep students safe and put children first.” By working together as a staff and community, we can make our schools safer. As Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago once stated, “We owe it to our children to protect the cherished freedoms so many have fought and died for: to worship, learn and work in safety.”

Michele Faehnle, RN, BSN, is the school nurse at St. Andrew School, Columbus, Ohio, and co-author of four books. Pray Fully is her latest book.

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