It’s springtime, which means the new school year is just around the corner. As you’re jumping into planning for the 2023-24 year, it’s a great time to revisit your current safety program and think about ways you can further strengthen it. Where to start? Here are five fundamental questions that will help give you a good sense of where you might want to prioritize.
1. Do we have an ICS Plan?
ICS stands for Incident Command System and it’s a common way of organizing people and teams in distinct roles in an emergency. It’s widely used in schools, largely because it’s a flexible and adaptable model that can be shifted to match every school’s size and structure. If you have one already, great! You’re well on your way to being prepared for the new school year. But be sure to take some time to make sure your plan is up to date and train each of your teams on their roles. (If you need help with this, let us know!) If you don’t yet have an ICS plan, building one is a great goal for the coming year. It’s a necessary piece of an effective emergency response, and developing a plan will help ensure your community is both protected and prepared.
2. Do we have enough redundancy in our ICS plan?
A plan only works if the people assigned to implement it are on campus during an emergency. Inevitably, there will be a need for redundancy (having back ups assigned to a role). We recommend creating 2-5 levels of redundancy for each role on your ICS team. While it’s unlikely you would need to go that far down your list, it will provide peace of mind to know that every role will be covered when a response is needed. This includes your Incident Commander (the lead decision maker during the response). This role is often held by the school leader or head of school and those roles have seen high turnover in recent years, so while it may be tempting to assume your leader will be on campus, choose at least one person who can fill their role in their absence.
3. Have we made updates to our emergency plan?
When was the last time you updated your emergency plan? If the answer is anything other than “in the last year,” yours is in need of an update. Schools should be updating their emergency plans annually to reflect changes to personnel, physical spaces on campus, and new practices and protocols that have been adopted. Take some time to read yours carefully, take note of the things that are unchanged, the things that may need to be discussed with other stakeholders, and the things that are clear and obvious changes you can make quickly (like removing names of individuals who have left the school since the last update was made). Then create a timeline for when you plan to update each section and what action steps you’ll take to get there. Pro Tip: Once you’ve completed your timeline, share a copy of it with a colleague, or add each deadline to your calendar so you have some added accountability to keep these updates on the priority list.
4. Do we have a security strategy for next year?
Now is the best time to start planning your approach to security for the fall. If you don’t currently use security guards, think through some fundamental questions: Do we have a need for security officers next year? What is our budget? How would our community (students, parents, teachers) feel about having security guards on campus? Would armed or unarmed security be a better fit for our school? If you have security guards, ask yourself: Are we satisfied with the support and service we’re receiving? Are our security guards partners in campus safety? Are any changes needed to help us feel safer as a community?
5. Do we have a business continuity plan in place?
Covid forced many schools to establish business continuity plans in real time. The value of hindsight is that we now know what went right (and what went less-than-right) when it comes to sustaining and maintaining our work during a pandemic. If you haven’t already codified these lessons and created a formal business continuity plan, now is a great time to tackle this. As part of this process, be sure to also address what you’d do in the event of a cybersecurity attack. They’re continuing to plague schools across the country and are likely to continue getting worse.