As we know, the Legislature considers it a matter of public safety for its schools and staff to have current safe school plans and procedures in place to maximize safety for all students and staff. Districts and schools are required to develop comprehensive all-hazard emergency operations plans (EOPs) to address prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery strategies.
Drills are an essential component of safety planning. As a part of its comprehensive safety, emergency operations plan, each school is required to conduct at least one safety-related drill per month, including summer months when school is in session with students. Drills practice and teach the basic functional responses (lockdown, shelter-in-place, evacuation), and in Washington, drop-cover-hold on) to all kinds if potential threats and hazards. The response to some threats or hazards may require the use of more than one basic functional response.
Reunification and Student Release:
There is a story, I have been told, of a school planning for a reunification drill. As the story goes, the school’s long standing off-campus reunification point was a church not too very far from the school itself. Large space. Plenty of parking. Room to shelter and reunite families and students after an emergency. Everything was going along fine until the principal realized that the church had been closed, and the space turned into a nightclub. Needless to say, the reunification site had to be changed.
Although not one of the basic functional drills, reunification planning how students is a critical component of emergency planning. Schools are required to have reunifications plans in place. Reunification is part of the Incident Command System (ICS).
There is a wide range of emergency situations which might require student/family reunification. Reunification may be needed if the school is evacuated or closed as a result of a hazardous materials transportation accident, fire, natural gas leak, flooding, earthquake, tsunami, school violence, bomb threat, terrorist attack or other local hazard. As you develop your reunification plans, consider:
- The location of the reunification site.
- Advance information to families about the reunification process.
- Verification that an adult is authorized to take custody of a student.
- Steps in the actual process of reunifying students and families.
- Communication processes among the parent check-in, the student assembly, and reunion areas.
- Assurances that students do not leave on their own.
- Privacy protection of students and parents from the media.
- Reduction of confusion during the reunification process.
- Frequent updates for families.
- Recognition of technology barriers faced by students, staff, parents, and guardians – especially during an emergency.
- Effective resources to address language access barriers faced by students, staff, parents, and guardians.
To help ensure staff preparedness, discuss and practice reunification procedures regularly.
Thank you for all you do to keep your students and staff safe!