RaymorePeculiar East Middle School Photo by Jennifer Ray

Raymore-Peculiar East Middle School. Architect: Hollis + Miller Architects.

Best Practices for Effective School Evacuation

Most schools have an emergency evacuation plan in place and have a set schedule for drills. But what happens when you have to actually use that evacuation plan?

Luzerne County Community College (LCCC) in Nanticoke, Penn., recently received a threat via email, which Bill Barrett, director of campus safety and security, says “was very specific.” Barrett was unable to disclose the contents of the email because of an ongoing investigation, but says that the email represented a credible threat, targeted with specific details, including names.

Because of the nature of the email, Luzerne’s administration made an immediate decision to evacuate the school. Barrett shared some of his thoughts in the aftermath of the evacuation:

• Use social media in addition to traditional modes of communication. Facebook and Twitter may be fun for socializing, but they are also an effective means of disseminating emergency notifications to a school community.

• Make sure your emergency response team is clearly identified and prepared. An emergency team will likely consist of members from different school departments. These may include campus security, members of the IT department, part of the president’s/ principal’s office staff, and other administrators. Clearly define roles and responsibilities ahead of time. Periodic drills will ensure that team members know exactly what they need to be doing during an evacuation.

• Plan for the unexpected. No matter how many drills you have, there will always be something for which you cannot plan. For example, if your school is located in a rural area, how will you accommodate students who do not have transportation that day? Be sure to have a designated meeting place for these students and staff members.

• What about people who don’t want to leave? Despite the seriousness of the situation, you may find yourself faced with individuals who for whatever reason simply do not want to evacuate. They may not believe that there is really an emergency, or they may simply be unwilling to abandon their work. Prepare for this eventuality by doing room checks to ensure evacuation compliance and possibly even designating sufficient staff to forcibly escort any holdouts.

• Maintain a good relationship with local law enforcement. This is perhaps the most important thing that a school’s safety department can do, according to Barrett. When a school faces a true emergency that requires evacuation, a good working relationship with local law enforcement ensures that the two entities can work together effectively. This will increase the likelihood of a quick response from law enforcement, as well as smooth implementation of crowd control, traffic direction, patrols to make sure that everyone has evacuated, help with any incidents that may occur during the evacuation process, and securing buildings after the evacuation.

• Have a debriefing session. An evacuation may be necessitated by an incident that subsequently requires an ongoing investigation. Or it may be just a false alarm. In either case, it is vital that you debrief your team, discussing best practices and what did not work well so that you are better prepared for any future evacuations. Conditions that lead to evacuation are serious and can be stressful. As a result, it is important to be well prepared beforehand to minimize the opportunity for further chaos and potential tragedy. 

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