Ask any parent and ask which is more important to them, their child's education or safety, and the answer will most certainly be the latter.
Understanding this focus, the job of being responsible for emergency planning in schools brings with it great responsibility and certainly in present day, great liability as well. Safety in our educational settings require comprehensive tactics in myriad areas, which unfortunately, are commonly delegated to school officials or staff in the form of a additional responsibility on a plate already overflowing.
To help focus on comprehensive processes, the emergency preparedness cycle is incorporated in four phases; Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery. To be effective in crisis mitigation, all of these phases of a emergency requires tremendous attention by way of staff/student training, drills/exercises, structure and threat assessments, expenditures, etc. Recognizing this, to prepare for any emergency in schools which house hundreds and sometimes thousands of people, the process deserves full time attention by someone with administrative authority.
The responsibility for emergency preparedness in schools is too often delegated to a variety of positions such as Director of Transportation, Student Service Staff, Principals, to name just a few. A wide variety of positions with an even wider range of responsibility, authority, training and little available time to accept and effectively carry out the program. Lack of focus, training and time can make for ineffective and unprepared organizational response. As a result, preparing for emergencies in educational institutions should not continue to be a merely a portion of a employee’s duties and deserves to be a dedicated and sole commitment.
Inadequate resource assignments exist for Emergency planning positions in many schools because for many, the act of simply completing checklists to reach compliance with a State law or agency regulation is what they see as an appropriate safety program. School administrators must ask themselves a series of questions. Beyond the monthly mandated fire drills, institutions should ask, has someone recently reviewed and updated emergency procedures? Have revised emergency procedures been shared with staff? Have staff and students been surveyed? Has anyone analyzed the safety surveys and noted areas of concern? Have we discussed past incidents to identify potential improvement? Checklists are a tool, and as such have their place, but in no way are they a stand alone solution for a comprehensive safety plan on a campus.
School Districts should demonstrate their overall commitment to the safety of their staff, students, and visitors, by creating Director of Safety and Emergency Management positions. The evolution of emergency management best practices is constant and ongoing and schools must establish dedicated leadership roles to facilitate a safe learning environment. Tomorrow could be a day too late.
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