February 1, 2014
Online Journal - Emergency Response Policy and Procedures
Scott Bowes, President, Kingsway College, Oshawa, ON

All students and staff in Adventist schools across this country have the right to learn and work in a safe and secure environment.  However, we are living in a day and age when the possibility of a major incident of violence is a reality.  As a result, all staff need to know how to protect themselves and our students should a major incident or threat occur.  While all of our schools have fire plans in place, in my experience, many of our schools do not have lockdown plans in place. 
To ensure the safety of our students and staff, it is critical that every school has lockdown policies and procedures in place that is specifically designed for that school.  It is also important that a minimum of two lockdown drills occur each school year to ensure that all staff and students know how to react should it become necessary to call a lockdown.

There are three scenarios that threaten personal safety that should be taken into account when developing policy and procedures:

1. Lockdown –  used only when there is a major incident of violence or threat of violence to staff and/or students within the school.  A Lockdown isolates students, the staff and others from danger by requiring everyone to remain inside the building in secure locations.  The over or misuse of lockdowns will result in students and staff becoming desensitized and they will not take lockdowns seriously.

2. Hold and Secure – used when it is necessary to secure the school due to an ongoing situation outside the school and not related to the school, such as a bank robbery or neighbourhood dispute involving weapons.  Under a Hold and Secure, windows and exterior doors are locked, while the school continues to function normally.

3. Shelter in Place – used when it is necessary to keep all occupants within the school to protect them from an external environment event, such as a chemical release or severe weather.

When developing lockdown plans, schools should consider the following guidelines:

(1) Clearly defined roles and responsibilities 一 In emergency situations, it is critical that there are clearly defined roles and responsibilities.  What is the responsibility of the principal, staff, students, parents, police? 

(2) Floor plans 一 Floor plans are critical for a couple of reasons.  First, they will help with the planning process.  It is recommended that floor plans be divided (even colour coded) into three sections: 

    i. Areas of the school that students and staff should go to in the event of a lockdown.  These areas can be safely locked down.

    ii. Areas of the school that cannot be locked down safely. 

    iii. Command post location (this is the area the police will come to so they can take charge of the situation.

Another reason to include floor plans is that  it will speed up the police’s response to the emergency.  This will help them get to the students and staff who are locked down as quickly as possible.

(3) How will a lockdown be initiated 一 All staff should be trained in what situations require a lockdown.  The announcement that will be used should be posted near the PA system so that the exact announcement the school has been trained with can be used (in stressful situations, people may forget what to say).  Can the PA system be heard throughout the entire school (inside and outside)?

(4) Procedures to follow when locking down a classroom (or other secure area) 一 Lockdown plans should give staff a list of procedures to follow when securing students in a classroom (or other secure area) during a lockdown.  The stress that will be caused in an actual lockdown can cause people to forget what to do (even if they have been trained). 

(5) Procedures to follow in difficult areas 一 It is necessary to determine what procedures students and staff should follow if they find themselves in a location that is difficult to lockdown.  Areas like washrooms, cafeterias, gymnasiums, and chapels, must be taken into consideration.

(6) Procedures to follow for outside the school buildings 一 It is necessary to develop procedures for students and staff to follow if a lockdown is called when they are outside.  Is there a safe location off-campus that students and staff could evacuate to?

(7) Fire Alarms 一 Procedures must be developed on how to deal with a fire alarm.  In most cases, fire alarms should be ignored during a lockdown, however, it is possible that a fire may be caused intentionally and students and staff must respond to the most immediate threat to ensure their safety.

(8) How will a lockdown be ended 一 It should be determined ahead of time how a lockdown will be ended.  It could be an announcement over the PA system by the principal, or a room to room visit from the police/principal with some sort of identification process.  Students and staff need to be aware of how this will occur so they can determine if the call to end the lockdown is authentic.

(9) A communication plan must be developed 一 How will parents and guardians be communicated with before, during and after a lockdown?  Who will deal with the media and what will be said?  Who will be included in a debriefing after the lockdown (only staff, or will students and parents be included)?  Does the school have counsellors in place to help students or staff deal with the trauma that just happened?

If we take the time to develop these policies and procedures, we can ensure that everything has been done to ensure the safety of our students and staff should an emergency situation occur.  We can no longer afford to operate without these policies and procedures in place.