In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks, New York City Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy said he was concerned that evacuation plans and public address systems were not up to par at some city schools. He said he would appoint a task force to review the school system’s emergency plans.
The current plans worked well enough to prevent serious injuries to students being evacuated from schools in downtown Manhattan on the morning of the attacks, Levy said. But, he added, “We need to assess what new measures need to be taken in light of these new concerns.”
At some schools, phone systems were flooded with calls or knocked out of service entirely on the day of the attacks, school officials said. Meanwhile, across the city’s 1,100 public schools, “it hasn’t necessarily been a high priority to have the public address systems working,” Levy said. “It just became a high priority.”
Levy said current plans were contrived mainly to address problems that might occur in a single school building, like a fire or bomb threat. But he said planners did not adequately anticipate steps that would need to be taken in the event of a citywide emergency, when public transportation would be curtailed and many students would need to be held safely until parents could pick them up.
Levy’s concerns mirror those of other school administrators in the aftermath of the attacks. National School Safety and Security Services, an Ohio-based consulting firm specializing in school security and crisis preparedness training, has put together a list of recommendations for schools in light of the terrorist attacks:
• Identify school and community mental health support services available to students and their families, and communicate the availability of these services to school community members.
• Communicate openly and honestly with students. Attempt to maintain a sense of normalcy in school operations, while still providing adequate and appropriate opportunities for students to share their feelings, concerns, and thoughts. When communicating with students, mental health professionals typically suggest that adults (1) keep discussions age-and developmentally-appropriate; (2) let students know when they are having normal reactions to abnormal situations; (3) include facts and be honest; (4) reaffirm existing adult support of students; and (5) reassure students of measures taken to keep them safe.
• Review your school crisis guidelines and implement responses pertinent to the conditions facing your school. Make sure school crisis guidelines include lockdown and evacuation procedures, alternative evacuation sites, family reunification procedures, and related considerations for use in any natural or manmade crisis situation.
• Maintain a balanced, common-sense approach to school safety and security. School and safety officials should maintain a heightened awareness for potential spin-off incidents. In light of the nature of the national incidents, particular awareness and preparation for possible spin-off incidents involving bomb threats, suspicious devices, and hate crimes should be considered. It also would be prudent for school officials to develop, refine, and/or review their policies and procedures related to school threat assessment and threat management.
• Review security issues related to access control, perimeter visibility and security, and other crime prevention measures. The importance of adult supervision before, during, and after school, both inside school buildings and on campus, also should be reviewed and reinforced. Involve all school staff, including support personnel such as secretaries, custodians, and bus drivers, in your safety review.
• Communicate hotline numbers and other methods that students, parents, and members of the school community can use to report safety and related concerns.
• Use school district call-in lines, web sites, and other information sources to provide ongoing information to the school community.