The dangers of “I think” and “I believe” in school security and emergency preparedness planning

Posted by on September 26, 2023

It is very common in our interviews of principals and their building safety/crisis/emergency teams (the names vary) to have answers to our questions begin with “I believe” or “I think.”

“I believe there is someone always at the church office.”

“I think we can get school buses to our school in about 20 minutes from the time we call the transportation department.”

The “I believe” answer was in response to our question about how the school emergency team would get access in the middle of the school day to its walking distance evacuation site. The “I think” response was in response to our question about how long a school team would expect to wait before district buses would arrive if the principal called for help to evacuate students around 10:30am in the morning.

Sweat the details: Pivot from “thinking and believing” to “knowing”

As our senior consultant Chuck Hibbert is quick to point out, in school security and emergency preparedness we want answers of “I think” and “I believe” to be replaced with “I know.”

We often find that school administrators and their teams create school crisis/emergency plans containing many pages with a lot of information. In fact, we are finding these plans to become more and more voluminous. Oftentimes while the documents look to be thorough on their surface, the actual planning behind them has a good deal more work to be done.

One common area of surface-level planning is on school evacuations and parent-student reunification. Schools will name a nearby location such as a church as their walking distance evacuation site, but very often they and their staff have not physically visited the site. They often do know (not guess, know) if the location will have staff on duty or if they can gain access to it, if needed. They just “think” or “believe” something. They also “think” or “believe” when coming up with an estimated response time for getting buses mid-day should they call for help.

We find similar statements made during our tabletop exercises for school and district teams. So often building level teams will assume (“We believe” or “We think ABC would do XYZ in this situation”) yet these participants have not gotten up during the exercise to walk across the room and actually ask the person(s) what they would really do. They just “think” or “believe” the person(s) would do a certain thing.

These details are not things you want to guess about. They are details you need to know.

The devil really is in the details

School emergency planning can feel like tedious work. It is!

But the more detailed you get in your work, including confirming the fine points, the more meaningful your plan will be if it is ever needed for an actual emergency.

So, stop “thinking” and “believing” for a moment. Instead, make sure you confidently “know” the answers to questions about the smallest details in your plans.

You will appreciate having done that tedious work if you ever have to use that plan in the heat of an actual emergency.

Dr. Kenneth S. Trump is President of National School Safety and Security Services  

National School Safety and Security Services

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