REMS School Emergency Planning Grant Lessons Learned

Posted by on August 23, 2010

Good school safety consultants learn from every project and client school district.  If not, they’re not very good consultants.

My colleagues and I have consistently received positive feedback from our work with school districts receiving federal Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) grants.  We have provided training for crisis teams and administrators, emergency planning assessments, tabletop exercises for building and district crisis teams along with their first responders and other community partners, professional development sessions for support personnel (office support staff, custodians, food service staff, bus drivers, and transportation management teams), and related services.

But we also have learned a great deal along the way to become better at what we do.  A number of our “lessons learned” center around common themes we see across projects. Some of these lessons include:

  • We recognize again and again how unique each school-community is in terms of evolving safety threats, resources, response capabilities, school politics, and school-communities.  
  • What is on paper in many school districts is not always what is on practice —thereby increasing a district’s potential safety and liability risks.
  • Tabletop exercises provide a wealth of information as schools dust off written plans and go through exercises to see if what is on paper might work in a real emergency.   Well designed and facilitated tabletops can help school leaders identify things which would work well, while also learning who on their teams might drop the ball under pressure.
  • Schools often over-estimate their level of preparedness while under-estimating the impact of certain components of school emergency planning.  For example, many schools are grossly under-prepared for parent-student reunification, managing parent and media crisis communications, and related response components. They also often tend to overly-rely upon certain key staff members, such as principals, secretaries, custodians, SROs, and school communications/PR directors without having back-up and/or redundancy in their plans.
  • Many schools are conducting crisis drills, but too often the drills lack diversity in the drill itself and many times there is no formal debriefing once a drill is conducted.

REMS grants have helped schools motivate members of the school-community around school emergency/crisis planning.

What motivates your school leaders to move their crisis plans from paper to practice?

Ken Trump

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