Recently my children’s school district had a bit of an active shooter scare. It turned out to be a false alarm, but all district schools went into lockdown.
In my opinion, the district did a good job handling the situation – with one notable exception. Before the event, parents were not notified about the district’s emergency response procedures, so many parents panicked and there was a degree of chaos and confusion (not inside the school) about pickup and other logistics. While the administrators, teachers, and students knew what to do in a lockdown, the parents didn’t know what was going on or how to respond. A few days later the administration sent an email to parents detailing the school’s emergency response procedure.
Pasted below is a (edited for security reasons) version of the email sent to parents after the event. This is not intended to be used as a template for any organization, particularly since portions of the email have been cut and other portions have been edited. It is intended to be an example of how to inform parents about your school’s plan.
If your school hasn’t notified parents about the emergency response procedure, do it now! Don’t wait until after an event to let parents know what’s going on.
Emergency Response Procedures
In light of last week’s events, please see detailed information below regarding our emergency response procedures.
Also, if you did not receive the text notification last week regarding the Lockdown, please make sure you are signed up for the Remind app, and that your information is updated by logging in to your account to confirm current information. All personal information is kept private. Teachers will never see your ….
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Emergency Response Procedures
How will my child’s school handle an emergency situation?
All ….. facilities have an emergency preparedness plan. The response to each situation will differ based on the specifics of that situation. The flexibility of the plan is key to the success of the response. In general ….. kits that contain key information and supplies; designation of a primary and secondary relocation/ evacuation site; provisions for training personnel and updating the plan; checklists and student information for dealing with specific types of incidents; and resources……
What is lockdown?
An emergency may prevent the safe evacuation of a school building and require steps to isolate students and faculty from …. interior lockdown situation, all students are kept in classrooms or other designated locations that are away from the danger. Faculty members are responsible for accounting for students and ensuring that no one leaves the safe area. School personnel……
In the event of an emergency situation, will the school go into lockdown?
The specific actions taken by us in any emergency situation, will depend on the specifics of the situation. Any action taken would depend on several factors, including the level of threat and the advice of local…..
A. The Principal or designee announces the Lockdown Level.
B. Law enforcement and the regional superintendent are alerted.
Level 1: Threat is exterior to school. Criminal activity in area of school.
Level 2: Threat is inside school (or potentially could be)
Lock exterior door….
Level 3: Threat is (or potentially could be) inside school….
What is primary or secondary evacuation site?
Primary or secondary evacuation sites are short-term solutions to a short-term problem. If an accident or attack that created an unsafe environment for students and personnel to remain at …. method for ensuring the safety of students and staff members in this type of crisis.
Can I pick up my child?
Parents are allowed to pick up their children unless public safety officials have declared a shelter-in-place response, or there is some other reason why access to the facility …… in emergency situations. Remember, school may be the safest place for children.
Why are you keeping children from their parents?
The administration does not intend to keep children from their parents if a crisis occurs during school hours or school activities. It is the schools intent to make sure that children are safe inside the school until such a time that the threat …. emergency messaging system.
Who can pick up my children?
Children will not be released to individuals who are not authorized ….. school year. Friends and neighbors may sign a child or children out with written permission from a parent or parents. Both (or all) parents have to give permission in writing for the sign out ….. notes and sign out lists. Schools will also ask for identification when the child is released to one(s) mentioned in the permission note.
Can I contact my child?
Parents are asked not to call in emergency situations so phone lines can remain accessible for handling the specific situation. Parents will be kept informed…..
What if my child is riding a school bus at the time of a crisis?
School bus drivers will be in contact with the Department of Transportation for instructions in the event that a crisis occurs while students are in transport. Bus drivers will be informed to use common sense and not travel toward the crisis location. Parents will be informed…..
A security operations console is a key part of security management in any given organization. In a perfect world, an organization’s security operations console would:
- be housed in an interior room
- have access control on the door
- have camera coverage of the door
- have integration of systems (e.g., cameras, access control, gates) inside the room
- have video analytics
- have dynamic presentation of alarms
- be manned by security personnel
- have the ability to remotely control gates, doors, etc.
- have the ability to relay information to responding agencies
- put the campus/building on lockdown
- initiate mass notification
Because a proper security operations console could be a large undertaking for an organization that doesn’t already have most (or some) of the above points in place, decision makers sometimes shy away from deciding to install one. With that said, new technology means that a physical room with equipment and personnel isn’t strictly necessary anymore.
With a cellphone and a web-based login, it’s possible these days to hit most of the salient points of a security operations console without the physical location of one. Systems integration, video analytics, dynamic presentation of alarms, remote control of gates and other entrances, contact with responding agencies, and initiation of lockdown and mass notification can all be achieved with a mobile operations center.
Don’t let the price tag overwhelm you when it comes to a security operations console. There are multiple options on the market for all types of organizations and their needs.
A recent article by the Associated Press had some good points about selling security equipment to schools. “Many proponents of hardening a school like an airport or police station have backgrounds in law enforcement or the military. Some have little experience or qualification.” One person interviewed for the story had sold $500,000 worth of security equipment to a school to later say (after he was no longer selling security equipment) that the same school could have paid a fifth of the price for the same level of security upgrades.
Listen, technology and gadgetry are not going to solve all of your security problems. Here at Invictus Consulting we believe that your school’s culture of safety can go a long way toward protecting your faculty, students, and staff. Having an emergency action plan that your faculty and staff have been trained on is such an important part of school security. We believe that security plans for intelligent threats should be as commonplace as fire evacuation plans – everyone should know what to do in case of an emergency, everyone will have practiced what to do, and lives will be saved because of prior planning and training.
Beyond an emergency action plan, a culture of security means that faculty, students, and staff have been trained to keep all exterior doors locked and closed; children do not open doors for strangers (even though this goes against a polite culture in parts of the country); parents and other visitors are aware that they need a reason for their visit; visitors have their identification checked against offender databases; visitors are escorted while they’re on campus; and a record is created for each instance of a visitor on campus (i.e., there is a record of exactly who is on campus, when they were there, how long they were there, when they left, who they came to see, etc.).
There are 5 layers of security on any property: outer perimeter, visual perimeter, access control, alarms, and policies and procedures. Your emergency action plan and culture of security would be considered the innermost layer of security – your policies and procedures.
But the other four layers of security are also places where schools can implement cost-effective solutions that improve the security of their people. Lots of schools we assess actually already have some measures in place – fences, gates, cameras, intercom systems, burglar alarms. It’s just that a lot of these systems are mismanaged or not used effectively or to their fullest capabilities. Before you upgrade to a half-million dollar security system, look at your current security measures and see if things can be managed better (e.g., fix broken fences, learn how to use video analytics in your camera system) or used more effectively.
We absolutely believe in the efficacy of physical and electronic security measures. Card readers, cameras, door prop alarms, systems integration – these are all effective and important aspects of security. But don’t mistake expensive equipment for a cure-all to security issues.
We thought it would be a good idea to look at the fundamentals of risk management to remind people what it is they’re trying to so when they talk about security.
Risk management means determining what your unique risks are and coming up with a plan to mitigate those risks. It may involve security guards, active shooter plans, security cameras, access cards / badges, fingerprint scanners, fences, locks, door alarms, mass notification, visitor management policies and procedures, and any number of other gadgets, devices, systems, policies, and procedures you can think of to mitigate risk. It’s overwhelming. It can get expensive. It can be time and resource consuming to put a risk management plan into place.
But it’s important to remember that risk management is built upon a pretty straightforward principle – protection of your people and your property.
We find that a lot of organizations first determine a budget for their security needs and then try to fit solutions into that budget. We think that’s a backwards approach because you wind up with a piecemeal security system where you’ve chosen products and solutions based on price rather than on the true needs of your organization.
At Invictus Consulting we believe the first step is to do a risk assessment to determine exactly what it is you’re protecting and how you can go about protecting it. Then, when it’s time to budget, you can prioritize the most important things first rather than purchase the most inexpensive items first or the items with the flashiest appearance that will give your people and your visitors the appearance of a security system.
By knowing exactly who and what you are trying to protect, as well as knowing what your specific threats and risks are, your organization can have a phased approach to security, budgeting for the most important things first. We understand it may takes a few years worth of budgets to get your ideal security system in place, and that’s why tackling the most critical things first is important. And that’s why identifying the most critical things first is important.
Another note to remember is that much of your organization’s security is about your policies and procedures regarding emergencies, personnel, visitors, etc. Often adjusting your organization’s policies and procedures is free – it just takes some time with the board and executives and some time to train your people. Tackling these types of things while you’re budgeting for a phased implementation of other aspects of your security system is a great way to make improvements without waiting for board approval.
Finally, it’s important to understand that, even if your organization had unlimited funds, you can’t possibly protect against every single threat and risk. Again, this is why a risk assessment is so important – it allows you to determine your biggest threats and risks and create a phased approach to implementation.
We are big believers in personal preparedness here at Invictus Consulting. Since we all rely on our phones for everything, why not use it for emergency preparedness too?
- Hurricane: American Red Cross
- Emergency: Alerts (American Red Cross)
- Tornado: American Red Cross
- Flood: American Red Cross
- Earthquake: American Red Cross
States have their own Ready organizations. Ready.gov is the Department of Homeland Security’s disaster readiness portal, but each state has some version of this, so use a search engine to search “ready [state name]” to find your state’s version. Some states have an app (like Ready Georgia), so look into that too for your state.
Many counties around the country also have alert and warning systems. Usually these systems require you to sign up with your phone number and you’ll receive text message alerts. With that said, we’ve run across a whole gamut of county-specific alert systems, so search for your county’s system and follow their directions to get plugged in.
ICE – This acronym stands for In Case of Emergency. There are apps that you can download (search your app store for “ICE”). Alternately, you can add “ICE” as one of your contacts in your phone’s contact list. Emergency responders know to look for ICE in a person’s contact list to find emergency contact information. If you go this route, put your emergency contact’s name, phone number, email, etc. in the ICE contact.
Don’t forget tech chargers! Make sure you have chargers in the car, at work, and of course at home. Portable charging packs should also be in your emergency provisions stash.
And finally, make sure you have important documents like your insurance, proof of residence, medical records, etc. backed up to the cloud and available electronically.
Here at Invictus Consulting we strongly believe in the value of training all of your people in emergency scenarios. Having a solid emergency action plan with different playbooks for different scenarios (e.g., tornado, active shooter, kidnapping) is the first step. The second step is actually training your people on what to do during the various scenarios. We’ve come across more organizations than we’d like to admit that actually have an emergency action plan but have never bothered to share it with their employees let alone train their employees on it.
Here’s the thing about training your people on your organization’s emergency procedures – you have to train ALL of your people. For schools, this means not only your teachers and administrators but also your cafeteria staff, para-pros, secretaries, school nurse, playground attendants, and any other staff member that would potentially be on campus during an emergency. For offices, this means not only your employees but also your Board of Directors, C-suite people, warehouse staff, temp people, and any other people that may be in the building or on the campus during an emergency.
Don’t assume that ancillary staff members, support people, or executives don’t need training. Even if these people are part-time staff or only on campus irregularly, they should still be trained. By excluding ancillary staff from training you risk two things. If an emergency were to occur while they were on campus or in the building, they wouldn’t know what to do. Obviously that’s a problem. But the second risk is that the people who haven’t been trained may either get underfoot in their confusion and panic, or they may attempt to do something that conflicts with your organization’s pre-set emergency procedures and thusly create confusion for those employees who have been trained.
We can’t suggest this often enough – you need to train your people; you need to train them frequently (multiple times throughout the year); you need to train them in different formats (e.g., live drill, tabletop exercise); and you need to audit your drills to close any gaps or reverse any problems that arise. By doing these things, your chances of making sure that ALL your people have been trained properly is greatly increased.
If you’ve been around this blog for any length of time, by now you know that we at Invictus Consulting advocate for everyone to have an emergency action plan. An emergency action plan tells your people what to do in the event of various types of emergencies (e.g., active shooter, tornado, workplace violence); an emergency action plan will tell your people what type of emergency is occurring, where to go, how to conduct themselves, their role as relates to other people (e.g., teacher’s role in terms of their students), evacuation procedures and routes, and other critical information. The other critical aspect of an emergency action plan is drilling that plan with your people.
Today we want to talk about making your emergency action plan mobile. There are a few apps on the marketplace that allow an organization to put their emergency action plan and accompanying documents in an easy accessible and mobile place. Let’s face it – our people (whether it’s our teachers, employees, executives, students, third-party contractors) have their mobile devices within arms reach at all times. What better place to have your emergency action documents than on people’s phones?
When looking at the options on the market, think about the following:
- Is the information on the app secure?
- Can documents be uploaded easily when parts of the plan change?
- Can the app handle images such as floor plans, evacuation routes, and other maps?
- Can the app be used offline so that people can view emergency documents even if there is no internet available?
- Is the app user friendly so that your people can easily use the app during an emergency?
You can find apps on your choice of app store by querying “crisis manager,” “emergency management,” “incident management,” “crisis plan,” or “mobile emergency response plan”. At this point in time there are only a handful of options on the market, but we are hopeful that over time more companies will put products on the market to give users increased options. If you are an app developer, consider creating an app based on the bullet points above.
Mass notification is a critical part of emergency planning. Without a way to alert your employees or students about an emergency, you have no way to manage your most valuable assets – your people. Imagine a scenario where an active shooter is in the main lobby of your multi-story building. You have no formal mass notification system, so someone pulls the fire alarm in an attempt to alert people to the shooter. Because people have been trained to exit the building when they hear a fire alarm, most of your employees dutifully shuffle down the stairs to make their way out the main entrance. In other words, they head straight to the location of the shooter. Proper mass notification in this situation would have altered your employees to the nature of the threat, it would have initiated a lockdown procedure, and it would have kept other employees from coming into the office at that time.
When considering installing and implementing a mass notification systems, decision-makers should consider the following points:
- Will it include the ability to send text messages to users?
- Will there be ways to alert users who do not have their cell phones on hand (e.g., scrolling marquees, email, audible sounders)?
- Is the system easy to maintain? Will the vendor/installer work with you if problems arise?
- Will it be easy to add new users as necessary?
- Will the system be user-friendly?
- Can the system be integrated in to your security management system?
- Will the system be easy for administrators/executives to use during an emergency?
- What are the upfront costs? What are the monthly costs?
- Do you want the system to have bi-directional communication (e.g., ability for users to give feedback or respond to certain alerts)?
- Do you want maps to be part of the system, where users can view a map of where the emergency is occurring?
- Do you want to be able to send alerts to various audiences (e.g., employees only, certain office locations only, executives only, etc.) rather than all users?
- Will the system support your organization’s emergency action plan?
There are many mass notification systems on the market, and there are many features that can be included in whatever system you choose. Mass notification is such a critical facet of emergency preparedness – it is important that your organization have some way to alert your people of an emergency or threat. Make sure you get the right system for your organization’s needs, size, types of users, location, and culture.
We talk pretty frequently about preparedness on the Invictus blog. But I think it’s worth talking about again.
The New York Times recently did a piece on preparing for a disaster. They made an interesting point that many disaster supplies companies (i.e., companies that sell supplies like freeze dried food, generators, water purifiers, etc. for disaster preparedness) are selling out of products. The public has finally witnessed enough natural disasters – from hurricanes to wildfires to high speed winds – to learn the lesson that preparedness is important. Finally! It’s a shame it takes back to back to back hurricanes for people to stop checking their Facebook accounts and look up form their phones long enough to realize they need to do something.
We whole heartedly support personal preparedness like that discussed in the NY Times article. Whether or not you go out and buy a generator and a week’s worth of non perishable food stuffs or not, we hope you do something proactive to prepare your home and your family for a natural disaster.
But we don’t want you to forget about your business. Of course preparedness is a different beast when you’re talking about your business rather than your home and family. You may not need to buy pocketknives, MREs, or emergency ponchos for your business. But there are things you need to do:
- Check your insurance policies – particularly if you own the space(s) where your business is located
- Check your vehicle insurance policies (if your business owns vehicles)
- Make sure you have a business continuity plan so that your business can keep operating even if the physical building is damaged
- Train your people on what to do if a disaster happens while they are at work
- Digitally back up your data, your work, your papers in case your building and its contents are damaged
- Consider auditing your physical assets in case you need to file an insurance claim after a disaster
No one wants to think about a natural disaster. We highly recommend having a professional create a business continuity plan for your business so that you have a preparedness and recovery plan in place in case a disaster does strike your area.