Handling Holiday Season Guests

‘Tis the season for holiday celebrations with family, friends, and schoolmates. Is your school planning any parties or plays or concerts this season? No matter how you are celebrating, your school will likely be welcoming a higher than usual number or guests. How can you keep your school secure during the chaos while maintaining the holiday cheer? Let’s break down security protocol based on the event.

Holiday guest preparation can largely be broken down into two categories – classroom events like class parties, and full school events like school concerts.

 

Class Parties

If your school invites parents to join in on class parties, there may be an influx of parents that arrive during the same time. With a little preparation, you can welcome all of these parents without compromising your entryway protocol. All parents should still enter through the main, locked door and check-in before heading to the classroom. Assigning extra staff to man the entry can keep parents moving quickly and avoid a build-up in the lobby. You might also consider asking parents in advance to indicate whether they plan to attend the party so you can prepare name tags or badges to streamline the process. It is also always helpful to remind parents of entry protocol before the event so they can arrive informed and with ample time to sign-in.

 

School-Wide Events         

Many schools will host concerts, plays, and performances after school hours. School-wide events draw more guests than class parties and it would be largely impractical to enforce your standard daytime entryway protocol. Still, there are many ways to maintain security for all those in attendance.

You can deploy permanent staff members or volunteers to man the entrances. These staff members can keep an eye out for suspicious activity and block off certain areas of the school that don’t need to be used for the event. Teachers should make sure their classroom doors are locked prior to the event.

It may useful to involve emergency personnel. If you have a Security Resource Officer at your school, consider inviting them to attend. You can call your local police station to make them aware of the event – they might send a cruiser to scan the parking lot.

At the beginning of the performance, take the time to provide a quick security briefing. Just like at the movies, identify the nearest exits and any other relevant response protocol tips.

 

All Events

The more people at a school (or any event), the higher the chance of an emergency. Ensure you have medical equipment like an AED handy. Consider that Grandparents attend many school events, and can pose health risks. If an emergency does occur, emergency response teams will need to respond, so it is essential all emergency parking areas are clear. When more people than usual are parking at the school it can be tempting to park in the emergency zones; consider having a volunteer monitor the parking lot to avoid this problem.

 

A little preparation can go a long way. Sharing your expectations with teachers, staff, and visitors will make for more secure events. If you need assistance planning for your holiday guests, we’d love to help. Best of luck to all planning and attending celebrations at schools this season. We at SEC are wishing you all a joyful holiday season!

Social Media and Emergency Management

In the event of an emergency, how do you get the word out? How do you alert key stakeholders (parents, caregivers, the community etc.) and provide timely updates? Many schools alert the news, utilize robo-call systems and send emails. Government agencies, police forces, and companies have taken to social media as an official means of communication. Can schools also benefit from using social media as an additional emergency management tool? Absolutely, provided they approach it strategically.

As social media grows, so does the opportunity for mass communication. In the California wildfires, the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection notified residents of evacuations and sent updates when they contained sections of the fire. After the terror attack in Lower Manhattan in October, the city’s official emergency management account, @NYPDNews, alerted citizens of the incident, road closures, and resources for families of victims.  Social media can be an effective tool because it disseminates information directly from the source to an unlimited number of people. Succinct, factual and timely posts can be the key to useful pages.

Today, many schools have a social media presence. Some are already using it as a tool to inform stakeholders about emergency events like lockdowns or shelter-in-place. As the social-media generation becomes parents, the prominence and usefulness of social media at schools will grow. If your school chooses to use social media as an emergency management tool, quality is essential. Poorly executed social media can lead to chaos and exacerbate the impact of emergencies.

 

Guidelines for Using Social Media in an Emergency

It is useful to turn to the Department of Homeland Security as a resource. They provide useful guidelines, which can translate to the school setting. Murch Elementary School in Washington DC posted recently used social media during a shelter-in-place event. Some of their posts are used as examples below.

Develop a Strategic Plan:

  • What social medium platforms will you use? Twitter is most common for quick updates, but Facebook can be effective as well. Check with parents to see which platforms they use most often, if at all.
  • Who will post the updates? When? Does the poster need to get approval from anyone before they post?
  • What constitutes as an emergency worthy of sharing on social media?
  • How will this compliment the other emergency notification plans you have in place?

Establish a social media presence 

If you want your posts to spread news, people must know your page exists, and it must be clear your page is legitimate.

The first part is easy – let parents, teachers and members of the community know that you have a social media page and it may be used to share updates in the event of an emergency. Share your social media plan in your newsletter, and cover social media when you are discussing other emergency preparedness topics.

Making it clear that your page is legitimate is important for more distant stakeholders who may not access your page as frequently (local news, community members etc.). To lend credibility to your page, post a link to your website in your bio, and link to your social media page on your school website, and apply to become “certified.”

Distribute timely and frequent updates 

During the emergency, post updates as often as possible. It is okay to send an update saying, “We don’t have any new information at this time.” News straight from the source (you) can prevent false news from spreading. Manage expectations for posts by being clear from the onset of an emergency as to how often you will be posting. Something like, “We will send updates every half hour, or as developments occur,” can calm nerves and reduce speculation.

 Actively monitor social media content 

One wonderful thing about social media is immediate feedback. One of the biggest drawbacks about social media is the opportunity for false news to spread and cause alarm. Avoid this by monitoring any replies you get to your messages and conducting basic searches for posts relating to your emergency. You can squash any rumors that may appear, but also learn helpful information that you may be able to re-post to share with your audience. Parents, emergency management, or the news may post useful information.

Murch Elementary posted 12 updates in the span of 1 hour and 40 minutes during a recent shelter-in-place event associated with a bomb threat at a nearby facility. Their posts were clear, timely, and took into account parent feedback.

Maintaining a social media presence is a big responsibility. For those that are up to the challenge, it can, though, create an invaluable communication tool between you and key stakeholders during an emergency.

 

 

Where would you go to protect yourself if there was an intruder at your school?

Where would you go to protect yourself if there was an intruder at your school? Childcare providers and schools must ask that question for themselves and for the students in their care. It is much harder to hide an entire class of students than a single person, which is why we turn to SEC’s overarching message: Be Prepared. Schools can prepare for intruders by identifying areas, prior to an incident, where students, teachers and visitors can easily and effectively seek cover and/or concealment.

What is the difference between cover and concealment?

Concealment is simply hiding yourself in a way that makes it difficult for an intruder to identify your location. You can effectively conceal yourself and your students by covering interior and exterior windows with shades or blinds, turning off the lights and positioning yourself in an area of the room that prevents you from being seen by someone on the outside.

Finding cover means positioning yourself behind an object made of a substantial material that would not only allow you not to be seen, but would also minimize the intruder’s ability to harm you. Concrete or brick walls, thick trees, dense furniture and vehicles are just some examples of things that can provide effective cover.

During many of SEC’s Critical Incident Training sessions, we often see staff members respond to a violent intruder scenario by freezing or simply getting low to the ground. This leaves them both exposed and unprotected. We recommend that schools identify all the areas of the facility that provide effective cover or concealment and conduct drills for staff and students to practice responding to those areas.

Just as schools post floor plans that identify evacuation routes, SEC also recommends posting similar floor plans that highlight where the areas in the school that provide the best cover and concealment are. These visible “tactical” floor plans can serve not only as reminders to staff and students but can also be an accessible reference for visitors such as parents and substitutes.

Understanding the difference between cover and concealment, identifying the areas of the school that provide them and conducting drills in which staff and students respond to those areas are all practices that facilitate effective responses during violent intruder incidents.

Not sure if your cover and concealment plans are up to par? Reach out to SEC for feedback.