It’s August, which means back-to-school season has officially begun. Whether you’ve already welcomed students back onto campus, or you’re knee-deep in planning and readying classrooms for their return, you’re likely asking yourself, “how can we make sure this back-to-school season is as safe as possible?”.
While there’s no one right answer to this question, taking these four steps can help you get much closer to your campus safety goals:
1) Plan to conduct early drills:
Be sure the first few weeks of school include basic emergency drills - including lockdown drills — to get your campus communities acclimated and rebuilt muscle memory. Practicing drills in a trauma-informed way is critical to building trust among staff and students (more on how to do that here). For lockdown drills, to respect the emotional needs of your community we suggest taking a three-part approach each time you conduct a drill:
1) notify your community about the drill in advance
2) execute the drill in a calm and reassuring way, and
3) provide space for feedback and follow-up and perhaps even a survey.
2) Put the pieces in place for quick, clear communication:
As early as possible in the school year (or even before it officially starts), ensure your emergency notification system is up and running. Update contact information for families and staff, and create some basic templates for your top 5-7 emergency responses – those that are most likely for your community to face this year. (Joffe Academy’s training on emergency communications planning has much more detail here!)
3) Update or develop your emergency leadership plan (and backup plan)
Predetermine who will take the primary leadership (“Incident Commander”) role in an emergency, and who will be on their team. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read this primer on Incident Command.) If your leadership team is already defined, start building your backup plan. Who will take the reins if your primary Incident Commander is out sick or chaperoning a field trip? Your plan is only as good as the people who are on campus to implement it, so make sure your bases are covered.
4) Assess your campus vulnerabilities:
As you prepare to start the year, consider doing a campuswide self-assessment to understand where there may be areas for improvement and prioritize changes to be made throughout the year. This campus safety assessment checklist can help. (If you’re unsure how to use it, check out our team’s July 18th webinar recording, which explains the assessment checklist in detail.)
No matter where you are on your back-to-school timeline, it’s never too early — or too late — to start taking these critical steps. They may seem basic, but they are the key to building a strong foundation for a safe and successful school year.