When a school has put its crisis plan into action, that process later becomes a learning event for those involved as well as for other school districts. The U.S. Department of Education’s Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance Center has published four documents in a series of lessons learned that spotlight critical actions, decisions, and events from actual crisis situations. Below is a synopsis of Vol. 1, Issue 2 titled A Coordinated Response To Multiple Deaths in a School Community Helps the Healing Begin.
School Responds After Deadly Car Crash
After a weekend traffic accident claimed the lives of seven of its students, one school shared its experiences about initiating its crisis response procedures. The school’s crisis team acted quickly and successfully completed a number of tasks to support students, teachers, and staff during the initial shock of the tragedy. The team’s actions include:
• Maintaining the regular schedule and each afternoon removing the tokens of remembrance that accumulated at the students’ lockers.
• Establishing a short-term counseling center for students.
• Offering teachers and staff resources such as classroom discussion points, daily updates on funeral services, and food and flowers in the faculty breakroom.
• Offering information to parents through a letter sent home with students the first day back at school and a support meeting held later in the week.
• Offering support to the families of the deceased, including special considerations for picking up their children’s belongings.
• Helping with additional administrative responsibilities that arose after the incident.
• Establishing an effi cient media-relations plan to answer media requests while shielding students from being asked to comment.
• Acquiring support for the caregivers including the administration, faculty, staff, and crisis team members.
• Planning a moment of silence to commemorate the first anniversary of the event.
Crisis Response Team Learns Valuable Lessons
The school crisis response team highlighted here responded in an outstanding manner during the aftermath of losing many students at once. However, the experience brought to light the importance of having a detailed, school-based plan in place. This team identified a number of procedures and considerations that should be established before a tragic event occurs. Some of the suggestions include:
• Develop a crisis handbook.
• Conduct training for the crisis team.
• Create memoranda of understanding to coordinate resources (such as managing donations).
• Document needs, tasks completed, and responses as they occur.
• Establish processes for communicating with families, teachers, and the media.
• Organize support for school personnel, perhaps arranging for other schools to help with duties or provide amenities such as refreshments.
• Conduct mandatory debriefings with caregivers to prevent emotional burnout.
• Establish a policy for school-sponsored memorial activities.
Read about School Tip Lines Offer Safety Net
To read the full account of this crisis event and the others in the series called LessonsLearned, visit the REMS Web site at http://www.ed.gov/programs/dvpemergencyresponse/index.html
and click on the Publications link.