Important Components of a School Crisis Plan

Josh Young
Josh Young
High school principal; Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, Carson-Newman University, TN
A man holding two puzzle pieces that fit together and read ‘crisis’.

A student walks into a restroom after lunch noticing pencil writing on the side of stall stating, “Shoot up this place”. The student informs the SRO who immediately shares with school administration. School administration with assistance from the SRO (School Resource Officer) begins to investigate the situation. What are the next steps that need to be taken?

What is a School Crisis Plan?

School safety is a crucial component to daily operations in all school buildings. School crisis plans (also known as emergency action plans, safe school plans, etc.) are preventive measures that are taken within a school building/school district to help improve school environments.

The Virginia Department of Education’s School Crisis Management Plan (2002) states, “Crisis Management is that part of a school division’s approach to school safety which focuses more narrowly on a time-limited, problem-focused intervention to identify, confront and resolve the crisis, restore equilibrium, and support appropriate adaptive responses” (p. 1). School crisis planning ranges from emergency planning to individual safety plans. There are many school crisis plan components that help schools be proactive including appointing safety teams.

Safety Teams

School safety teams are vital in planning/implementing what staff and students are to do in emergency situations. A few potential school safety team members are school administrators, teachers from different ends of the building, front office personnel, school counselor, SRO, school nurse, and any staff members that may have medical backgrounds/training. The team lead may be a school administrator or designee. At my school, our team lead is a PE teacher that has a medical background/helped with school safety plans for our district in conjunction with first responders. We communicate often on our plans, drills, and what we need to adjust.

The school safety team members may be the staff members within the school that have radios to communicate with school administration/safety lead during drills/emergency situations. These teams help create drill maps, such as for fire, tornado, and evacuation drills. Another component of these teams is to specifically layout the school safety/crisis plan.

For instance, a soft/hard lockdown drill is explained for each staff member/student to understand. A soft lockdown may be where the exterior of a school is lockdown with no one coming in/out of the building, but normal school activity continues (teaching in classrooms, class changes, restroom breaks, etc.).  A hard lockdown is where classrooms are locked down along with the exterior of the building in which no teaching/noise, students/staff in a classroom are below windows in designated spots, et cetera. Details of a soft/hard lockdown will be specific in the plan from the team and updates made when needed. Along with soft/hard lockdowns, there are a variety of drills that schools practice for emergency preventative measures.

Emergency Drills

Emergency drills are proactive measures that prepare staff/students for potential emergency situations. Emergency drills range from medical to intruder. Tornado, fire, AED, medical response, armed intruder, lockdown, evacuation, and evacuation off-site are all examples of emergency school drills. All emergency drills need to be practiced in a variety of scenarios. A fire drill may occur while all students/staff are seated in a second period class or may occur during a lunch period when half of your school is at lunch. An armed intruder drill may occur in the middle of sixth period or in the middle of a class change.

There are numerous scenarios in which an emergency may occur. Practicing with students/staff through drills in a variety of ways will better equip a school for emergencies. Emergency drills may be pre-planned, but spontaneous emergency drills give schools a good look at components they are doing well/need improvement as the drills are unexpected.

First Responders (police department, 911, fire department, EMS, etc.) are important as well to be involved during emergencies as they may provide school/threat assessments during drills (SchoolSafety, 2021). This gives schools a different perspective from outside eyes that helps make schools safer. Emergency drills and school plans are prepared for all staff/students, but individual crisis plans are part of school plans to prepare for individual needs.

Individual Safety/Action Plans

Individual safety/action plans are for individuals in a school that need potential emergency action whether being a student or a staff member. Safety plans may be for medical reasons (which is referred to as an individualized health plan or IHP) or other emergency situations. These other emergency situations often include scenarios involving other people, such as a parent or person that has a no-contact order with a student. These plans are often documented in a student’s records and/or Education Informational System (EIS) database. This enables those individuals that need to know, such as school administration, front office personnel, school counselor, teachers, et cetera, to have the information needed and to implement it.

Individual safety plans may also be implemented between students whether deriving from incidents occurring inside of school or outside. Individual safety plans may be set for victims of conflicts and the perpetrators. Some aspects of safety plans between two students may include different class schedules, different lunch periods, specific seating during assemblies/activities, and go to staff for the students to talk to if needed.  These staff members would be chosen by each of the students.

School Crisis/Safety Plans have a variety of components that are meaningful for an entire school body (students, staff, etc.) and/or individuals within a school building. The purpose is simple to keep school building safe so that teachers may teach, and students may learn. In being prepared for a crisis/emergency, schools lessen potential chaos/harm by preparing all in the school for different emergencies.

(2021). Foundational elements of school safety. School Safety.
Virginia Department of Education (2002). Model school crisis management plan. Division of  Special Education and Student Services. 
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