Classroom and School Emergency Preparedness
Serious emergencies can arise at any time. From natural disasters like floods, fires, or earthquakes to human-created emergency situations, it's important that everyone knows what to do in order to ensure their own safety. This essential information also applies to children, and teachers have a special opportunity as well as an obligation to share and implement their understanding of emergency preparedness techniques. Spreading these processes and actionable information is especially important in parts of the country where disasters are more common so that life-saving measures can be taken for kids, even without their parents present. From drills in the classroom to educational videos, there are several things you can do to teach children how to properly prepare for and handle a wide range of emergencies.
Earthquake Safety Tips
An earthquake can happen at any time and without warning. These natural disasters leave widespread damage to life and property in their wake, and they can easily scare children as items begin to fall and buildings start to shake. Teach your students to seek immediate cover away from windows and hide under a table or desk. Make sure they cover their necks with their hands, and explain how this form of emergency preparedness is designed to help prevent injury. Items like coats can help prevent additional injury from things like shattered glass or other small debris. Try a few simple classroom drills so children feel confident, and teach them to perform all of the steps in a quick, efficient manner. Tell your students that when they're indoors, it's essential to remain inside and stay covered for at least one full minute after the shaking has subsided. Students who are outside should be taught to get to an open area if possible in order to avoid injury from falling debris.
Teaching Children How to Handle Fires
When a fire occurs, it's important for children to know what to do, whether at home or at school. Let your students know that the most important thing for them to learn is where the school's escape routes are. All escape routes should be clearly designated both in the home and at school, and students need to understand that they should exit the building as fast as possible. Have students talk to their parents to create their own family escape plan at home. Let them know to always avoid opening doors if they see smoke, and never open doors where the knobs or walls feel hot to the touch. Everyone, including teachers and students, should remain low to the ground and cover their noses and mouths with clothing to keep from breathing in smoke as much as possible. If an escape needs to be made out a window, teach your students to use furniture or another heavy object to break the window. Make sure they know to cover the window with a blanket or clothing to prevent injury from broken glass, and then they can escape. Remind your students of the stop, drop, and roll method to use if their clothing catches fire.
Floods can catch anyone off guard, so it's important that children understand how to safely handle them. Teach students to have a contact list made up of parents, neighbors, and other relatives in case they are not at home when a flood occurs. Make sure children know to stay far away from rushing water, streams, and rivers at all times, particularly if they are without supervision. Children should look for higher ground to avoid being swept away in a flood current. Let your students know that it's never safe to play in or near any type of water after a flood due to highly unstable surfaces. Other threats include rip tides, sewage, toxic chemicals, and debris that can cause serious injury.
Tornadoes are some of nature's most dangerous storms, and they can strike with little warning. These intense storms pose a serious risk to everyone, including children, so it's important to teach students how to spot a possible tornado. When a severe thunderstorm or hail occurs, it's possible that a tornado will follow. Educate your students to look up at the sky for a greenish color or to look out for a funnel-shaped cloud that either has started to form or has already touched the ground. The sound of a loud, powerful roar, almost like a freight train, is another telltale sign. Let your students know to move immediately to a closet, a room with no windows, or the lowest room in the building. Seeking cover under a table is another helpful way to avoid serious injury. Remind your students that after a tornado has passed, power lines, downed trees, and collapsed buildings should be avoided. Make sure students know to contact a trusted adult like a parent or relative to inform them that they're safe.
Winter Storms and Extreme Cold
Extreme cold snaps and winter storms can threaten your safety and cause serious risk of hypothermia. When the winters are extreme, teaching children about the importance of staying inside and warm should be emphasized. Eating and drinking water can help the body produce its own heat, so remind your class of these simple winter tips. Emphasize that staying outdoors for extended periods of time in winter can be dangerous, and remind them to change out of wet clothing when they come inside. Multiple layers of clothing can keep children warm. Clothes like thick socks, hats, and gloves can help retain body heat and keep them safe.
School Emergency Supplies and Go Kits
In order to practice proper emergency preparedness, every school and each classroom should be stocked with important supplies. Go kits are small bags or other containers filled with important essentials that students can take with them in the event of an evacuation or other emergency. A first aid kit is one of the most essential things any teacher can have inside the classroom. First aid kits should contain items like bandages, burn cream, gauze, antibacterial ointment, and pain relievers. Items like latex gloves and masks should be included for safety and sanitary reasons. And a bright, reflective vest is good to have so you can wear it if you need to direct students in or out of the building during an emergency. Bottled water can be stored in a closet of the classroom in case a student gets dehydrated. Keep a contact emergency list for all of your students' parents close at hand in case you need to call them in the event of a serious emergency.
The frequency of school shootings has increased, creating a serious threat to students and teachers, so putting a firm action plan into place is absolutely essential. If you find out there is an active shooter in your school or facility, the first thing to do is lock or secure the door and keep students inside whenever possible. Have them hide in closets or under desks, and make sure you've called 911, even if you think someone else may have already called. Keep students as calm and as quiet as you can, and turn off all ringtones on cell phones to avoid being noticed. If there is a clear, safe escape path, have everyone run as fast as possible in single file away from the building and take cover. If a situation with a shooter puts you or your class in imminent danger, you may need to fight the perpetrator directly. Yell your intentions and try to distract the shooter by throwing an object toward them. If possible, find an item to use as an improvised weapon as a last resort. By being prepared, you can minimize the potential dangers of this very serious situation.
Faculty Emergency Plans
Every school should have an emergency plan put into place. It's important that all members of faculty and staff, including food services, know and understand this plan so that every employee is aware of what to do during an emergency. Drills should be performed regularly so that should an emergency arise, everyone knows what to do in order to ensure the safety of themselves as well as of the students. Practice your emergency plan and update it regularly.
- Classroom Preparedness
- Active Shooter: How to Respond (PDF)
- Workplace and Classroom Emergencies
- Building an Emergency Preparedness Kit
- Winter Safety Tips for Kids
- Sample School Emergency Operations Plan (PDF)
- School Safety During Emergencies: What Parents Need to Know
- Tornado Preparedness Tips for School Administrators
- School Emergency Kit Checklist
- Shelter in Place Procedures
- Conducting Crisis Exercises and Drills
- Flooding and Schools (PDF)
- Fire, Flooding, and Earthquake Tips
- Showing up Strong in the Aftermath of Violence
- School Emergency Response Drills
- Savvy Tips for Helping Children Prepare for Crisis and Respond to Disasters
- Helping Children Cope With Emergencies
- Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Educators
- Tips for Teachers on Talking About Natural Disasters
- Fire Drill Procedures
- Create Disaster Supply Kits
- Ten Tips for Keeping Children Safe in an Earthquake
- Resources for Schools From the Red Cross
- Threat Assessment in Schools (PDF)
- Teaching Your Kids Emergency Preparedness
- Active Shooter or Aggressor Overview
- The Rainy Windy Day: Book to Help Children Understand Hurricanes (PDF)
- Disaster Preparedness Resources and Activities
- Parent Guide to School Safety and Emergency Preparedness
You are well on your way toward protecting your staff and organization.
Take the next step toward protecting your organization by learning more about emergency notification systems and the vital role they play in your emergency preparedness plan.