Learning that your child’s school is on lockdown is one of the scariest things a parent can hear.  You hope the school has taken all the necessary precautions and that your kid(s) are safely waiting behind a locked door for the all-clear signal.  There’s no better time than America’s Safe Schools Week to share practical information everyone can use in the event of a school emergency.

What Can Happen

It is important to familiarize yourself with the different emergencies as well as the different types of responses that can/will occur at your child’s school.  Guns and active shooters are often the first type of emergencies that come to mind.  There are also physical dangers like knives, bomb threats, and chemical-based weapons like mace.  These might necessitate a different reaction than an active shooter.

Weather related and natural emergencies, as well as what are referred to as “technical” events, can disrupt your child’s school day. Technical events include power loss, heating/cooling failure, gas leaks, and fire. To help prepare, be aware of the weather forecast and plan ahead for snow storms and tornadoes to earthquakes and floods.    Your child’s school should plan for all these as well.

Terms You Should Know

If there’s an emergency at your child’s school, you might hear unfamiliar terms used to describe what’s going on. These terms are important to know and may be used by themselves or together in response to particular situations.

  • Lockdown: the school grounds and facility are secured to prevent entry and exit. Inside normal operations continue, but only first responders will have access to the interior and exterior of the school. The school will remain under lockdown until the hazard or threat has been cleared.
  • Shelter-in-place: the act of physically finding a safe location to remain in until an all-clear or evacuate directive is given.  This could be inside a locked classroom in the case of an active shooter or an interior hallway without windows in the case of tornado or other strong storm.
  • Evacuation: students, teachers, and staff all leave the school building(s) in an orderly and systematic manner, gathering at a predetermined point at a safe distance.

What to Do

It’s natural to want to be there in person to respond and comfort your child during an emergency situation. Or perhaps you might think you’ll be reunited faster if you’re on the physical premises. The best thing you can do is remain where you are and wait for instructions from the authorities. Here’s why.

During an emergency, responders of all types including police units, fire trucks, and ambulances, will arrive from different directions. To do their job effectively, they need space on roadways and unhindered access to and from the immediate area, which will already be limited by buses and cars parked at the school.  When parents show up too early, they hamper the movement of emergency vehicles, restricting their movement and making it harder to help the children.

There is also the issue of site security. Until otherwise determined, the school and immediate area will be a crime scene. That means no access will be allowed, by anyone—including parents. You will not be allowed to reunite with your child until the hazard or threat has been cleared and the area is safe. The school, in conjunction with the authorities, will follow their established emergency plans to account for each child. Be prepared to provide identification that proves who you are so your child can be released to your care once the all-clear signal is given.

If an evacuation has occurred, your children will not be at their normal school location, so going there will be pointless. Every school plans multiple locations where children may be taken for safety. For security purposes, this information will not be released in advance. You’ll be notified of that location once all children have arrived safely and have been accounted for by teachers and staff.   If your school used an emergency notification system, be sure you have notification alerts on and accessible.

We can’t stress enough that the best way to help your child is to remain near your phone and stay away from the school until you’re contacted by the authorities or the school’s emergency notification system.

Schools in WNY and across the country are constantly assessing their current emergency plans and train regularly in best practices to effectively handle emergency situations. They work hard to be prepared, and so should you. It’s not enough to hope that something bad will never happen. Talk with your children about what to do in an emergency and how you will respond. It’s the best way to keep your children safe and be prepared.