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Dealing With Boredom in an Emergency

In our field of school safety and emergency preparedness, we often deal with people who are feeling high levels of stress, anxiety, and fear. While intense, these certainly aren't unfamiliar feelings for our friends in the academic community. From what I remember about my time in school, those emotions often appear there as well, especially in geometry.

121110878-56a13da35f9b58b7d0bd5628A contemporary photo of the author in geometry class.

And yet, while those emotions (understandably) get all the attention, boredom is the one most associated with an extended emergency situation. If you'll allow me to make the easy joke, boredom is also highly correlated with geometry. Combating this boredom is important. In an emergency, there are a large number of critical decisions to be made every hour. Keeping morale high and the group of students in your care relatively distracted allows for the necessary work to be done.

When we partner with schools and assist with their emergency response planning, one of the teams we create is called "Long Range Care." Their responsibilities include distributing water and food, but perhaps the most critical is keeping up morale if an emergency stretches into multiple hours or even days. If possible, members on this team should be staff and faculty who will be naturally suited to this sort of role. The best forms of entertainment will depend both on the resources at hand and the age of children in your care, but here are some suggestions to get you started: Board games, sing-a-longs, cards, books, dancing, and self-directed time are all decent ways to make 30 critical minutes pass by.

Of course, that paragraph makes it sound easy. There are obvious challenges to fighting boredom and stress in an extended scenario. Depending on the situation at hand, many of the available staff could be allocated to things like First Aid or Search and Rescue, creating a tricky ratio of caretakers to students. Additionally, it can be tough to identify which students are having a harder time dealing with the emergency. Staff devoted to the task of student care should do their best to be watchful for students who seem particularly anxious, withdrawn, or moody. As appropriate, and if the situation allows for it, these students may do better if they are removed from the larger group. Comfort and counsel can be liberally distributed if it seems helpful.

The responsibilities discussed here may sound minor, but they are crucially important to your school community's response as a whole. When students are relatively distracted from the goings on of the emergency response, it keeps everyone's stress at a simmer instead of a rolling boil. Getting important crisis communication out to the community becomes more challenging when students are too loud and out of control. Managing to keep students occupied while other elements of the emergency response are working will provide the best possible environment for resolving the situation quickly and effectively.

And, while we say this a lot, we mean it. The best safety resource available to any school community is the people who belong to it. In this context, your community knows what works best for individual students in a way that an emergency preparedness plan never could. Heck, maybe there's even a student out there whose best relaxation and distraction technique is working through some geometry problems.

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