Better SAFE than sorry

During my public school days, my friends and I heard–on more than one occasion–administrators utter the phrase “in loco parentis” (in the place of a parent) while applying a disciplinary action. And though this doctrine seemed borderline absurd to my adolescent mind, maturity eventually revealed the necessity of giving school leaders this kind of responsibility over me.

While we typically frame our thoughts about this doctrine in terms of locker searches and First Amendment rights, these are only small pieces of the bigger picture. The first responsibility of any parent is ensuring the physical safety of his or her offspring–and so, acting in a parent’s stead, this responsibility falls to school administrators when students are attending class.

For as long as schools have existed, administrators have had to worry about student fights, local emergencies (such as fires), and natural disasters. Now, however, additional threats–such as school shootings, terrorism, and even the possibility of a pandemic–are garnering their share of headlines.

Where can school leaders turn to prepare for such divergent, and plentiful, threats to their student population? What should such emergency plans look like? How should they be practiced, communicated, or executed? How have other schools, districts, or states addressed these issues?

When researching the stories we published about the devastating impact that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita had on Gulf Coast schools and their students in 2005, we realized there was no single resource to help educators answer these questions. So, in partnership with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), we set out to create one.

The new S.A.F.E. (School Actions For Emergencies) Center, which launched at eSchool News Online last month, is an online clearinghouse loaded with information to help you craft well-informed emergency plans and make sound school-safety decisions. To me, the most impressive feature of this new repository is the sheer breadth and depth of information now at users’ disposal–all in one easily accessible place. Check it out at:

If you search long enough, much of this information is available elsewhere on the internet–but eSchool News and ISTE have now done this work for you, aggregating the very best plans and strategies for addressing a wide variety of possible emergencies, including bomb threats, earthquakes, shootings, gang activity, floods, hurricanes, pandemics, sexual predators, and more. Each type of emergency has its own easy-to-find heading; clicking on these headings brings you a collection of emergency-specific links to guidebooks, news, plans, and other resources from government entities, associations, organizations, schools, and universities.

In addition, we have collected and organized several sample emergency and disaster plans from specific schools across the nation. While identifying characteristics, such as phone numbers, key personnel, and meeting places, have been removed to protect the schools’ confidentiality and the effectiveness of their plans, we believe these sample plans can be useful models if you have yet to define your own emergency procedures–or they can help you refine your existing emergency plans.

As threats to schools expand, so will our new S.A.F.E. Center. We’ll continue to add new plans, resources, and approaches as they become available, to help you keep pace with the numerous school-safety issues you face today. For added benefit, we also have compiled an ever-growing list of organizations that offer products and services to help schools cope with and handle emergencies.

As you formulate and perfect your own school emergency plans, we hope you, too, will contribute your ideas and best practices to this organic online project, so others might benefit from your advances. This way, everyone can take from and contribute to what we hope will become the foremost clearinghouse for this absolutely critical information.

eSchool News Staff

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