There has been debate over the past few years about the use of smart phones at school. Educators are obviously aware of the negative ways that cell phones impact student life – texting, snap chatting, tweeting, and emailing during class; cheating during tests; cyberbullying; taking and sharing lewd photos; and general distractedness during the school day. Parents, on the flip side, find that smart phones allow then to coordinate after school activities with their children, keep tabs on their child’s whereabouts (via phone tracking apps), and reach their child during an emergency.
Interestingly, the use of cell phones during an emergency is pointed out by some security experts as a reason to completely disallow mobile devices at schools. It is true that there are multiple ways that students with cell phones impede emergency efforts. Students can (inadvertently) spread false information; they may miss life-saving directions if they’re on their phone; they may overload the phone lines, which prohibits the Crisis Response Team from making important calls or first responders from getting through via phone lines; and they often cause parents to flock to the school which impedes the ability of first responders to reach the school, impedes lockdown procedures, and impedes reunification procedures.
With that said, we here at Invictus Consulting do not beleive that banning cell phones from the school is the answer to these problems. As parents ourselves, we understand the reality that smart phones are here to stay. In fact, we forsee smart phones becoming even more pervasive in our lives and that includes our children’s lives and their schools.
We are not going to tell your school whether or not you should allow or disallow mobile devices on campus. There are clear benefits and drawbacks to both sides. However, if a school chooses to allow mobile devices on campus, we do recommend the following points when it comes to cell phone usage during emergencies:
- Add specific verbiage into your Emergency Operations Plan indicating clearly when cell phone usage is and is not acceptable
- Drill you emergency plan (e.g., hard lockdown, soft lockdown, shelter-in-place) and explicitly include cell phone policies into the drill (e.g., checking that students are not using their phones, have silenced their phones, are explicitly aware of the cell phone policy)
- Educate students, parents, and faculty on the cell phone policy as relates to emergencies so that they know when they are and are not allowed to use their phones
- Have a strong mass notification system for individuals on campus as well as an emergency notification system for parents off campus so that everyone can rest assured that all individuals will be notified and be kept aware of the situation in real time