School Crisis / Emergency Plan Templates

Read, “School Emergency Planning:  Back to the Basics: ‘Nuts-and-bolts’ details make or break schools in a crisis,” the feature article in the Student Assistance Journal, Spring 2009 issue.

Would you let your plumber do your heart by-pass surgery just because he had a template on how to do so?

Of course not.  In order for a template to be effective and useful, the person completing must be qualified to do so.  Having directions on a checklist, using a template after attending a one-day or one-hour course, or taking a similar approach to assessing school security is a risky thing to do.  It raises safety risks and also increases the risks for potential liability.  Yet so many school districts today are trying to do school safety “on the cheap” that they believe a template approach to school safety is acceptable.  They are dangerously wrong.

As a leading national expert resource on school emergency plans and school crisis planning, training, and consulting, National School Safety and Security Services receives inquiries from time to time from school officials seeking school emergency plan templates. Too often school officials, who are increasingly busy and competing with other hot button issues in schools, look for a “quick fix” by seeking school emergency and school crisis planning templates to “fill in the blanks” so they can say they have a plan. While using school emergency plan templates may solve a short-term need for school administrators, school emergency and school crisis plan templates can create longer term preparedness deficiencies and potentially greater liability.

A number of school emergency plan templates are being sold to well intended school officials. Oftentimes these templates appear to have been created and sold by individuals and/or large business corporations with no experience, expertise, or long-term credentials in the school safety field. Although school crisis plan templates have been around more in recent years, independent school safety experts continue to find that school districts using emergency plan templates consistently end up with plans containing serious deficiencies and gaps which look nice sitting upon a shelf, but are impractical and questionable for meaningful use by front-line school staff.

If you look closely, you will likely see a liability disclaimer for those who purchase such templates. Understandably so, those selling the templates recognize that the emergency plan templates are no substitute for consultation by qualified school safety and emergency planning specialists. They also recognize that template users could create a risk of higher liability when using a “template” or “plan in can” approach, so they may ask for liability waivers to be signed by those purchasing the templates.

This alone should send “red flags” to potential purchasers of school crisis plan templates. Most schools already are past the “starting point” of their school emergency planning and many have already consulted with public safety, school safety, and school emergency planning specialists. If vendors acknowledge up front that school emergency plan templates are only to be used for a “starting point” and that they are not substitutes for consultation by qualified school safety and school emergency planning specialists, why should school officials waste thousands of limited school safety dollars to buy something that will have minimal use and potentially greater liability?

It is also worth noting that in a June 28, 2005, school emergency planning webcast by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, viewers were cautioned several times that a “fill-in-the-blank” approach to school emergency planning simply would not work. Viewers were warned against simply filling in purchased or otherwise accessed school emergency planning templates. Presenters reaffirmed several times in the webcast that this template-type approach is not a best practice.

No one recommends “paralysis by analysis” by having committee overkill in the development of a plan. Schools do need to dedicate reasonable time to the actual process of developing their school emergency and crisis plans. As one professional noted, “The planning process is often as meaningful as the final written plan.”

Reasons for not using school emergency planning templates include:

  • Proper planning must take place in an environment where all community responders are at the table and focused on a meaningful process, not there just to focus on filling in blanks on a template. When the emphasis becomes “finishing this template to get to the next,” the process has been tainted.
  • Each school, school district, and community are different. The potential and actual threats they face are different. The resources are different. A “plan in a can” places schools at high-risk for not meeting the unique needs of each school and community.
  • People will often take a template and simply fill in the answers. We frequently find that one person, not a school-community public safety partnership team, used a school emergency plan template primarily for the sake of creating a plan so the school/district can say one exists.
  • Personal relationships and a sense of partnering develops when you spent the necessary time to build an individual school or community plan. From this partnership develops the trust essential to success during an emergency. It is important to develop the face-to-face recognition that comes from developing a plan together.

Each school district, and individual schools within the various districts, must develop their own school emergency and school crisis plans. A “cut and paste” approach using school emergency plan templates and other school districts’ emergency plans will not lead to full ownership and successful school emergency planning needed for school. In fact, it could lead to unprepared schools in an emergency situation and ultimately to increased liability for school officials.

We advise schools to watch out for the big and inexperienced corporations and consultants out to make a quick buck by pushing school emergency plan development templates. The “plan in a can” approach has rarely worked in providing a meaningful school emergency plan for school officials. In the long run, it could cause school leaders more embarrassment and liability.

Also see our web page on selecting qualified school security consultants.