K-12 Emergency Preparedness

This brief guide shows you ways to save the staff, faculty and students for whom you are responsible.

In the event of an emergency, your faculty and staff members can be heroes or scapegoats.

Preparing for an emergency is essential. A strong communication-plan is the backbone.

Please read and implement this guide, make adjustments for your school, then feel free to share it with appropriate staff.

When 20 year-old Adam Lanza fired his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School and massacred 20 students in 2014, the nation was shocked and appalled. What happened? Was communication before, during, and after the emergency what it should have been?

This emergency brought to light just how important effective and open communication is. After the state of emergency subsided, one Newtown parent of a dead child called for better communication. Sadly, his family was not included in the post-shooting sharing of information. Had an effective method for contacting that parent been established and implemented, unnecessary distress could have been avoided.

Appropriate communication is a critical part of handling a crisis. And, in order to communicate appropriately, schools need an emergency communications plan.

This plan must eliminate uncertainty and establish protocol. It should include a variety of methods of communication you and your staff can use. Education on methods is imperative. Open communication to the right parties can save lives, and it can save you from the most excruciating apology you'll ever have to make: the apology to that parent or staff member who was left out-or misinformed.

Developing a plan 

The first step to developing a communications plan is to create a crisis management team. This team will be the ones to plan communications procedures for your school, to help build your emergency toolkit, to make executive communications decisions when emergency occurs, and to handle communications post-emergency.

Your team should include key members of your staff, and include representative members from external organizations, including the Police Department, Fire Department, County Emergency Rescue Services, and Mental Health Services. For more information on creating your Crisis Management Team, visit page 2 of Virginia's Model School Crisis Management Plan.

The Crisis Management Team will assist you in developing your site-specific plan based around different scenarios, and they will assist in educating other staff and students on the methods of communication you will learn about here in this guide.

In this way, you can exercise total control over the communications protocol. Establishing protocol and training the entire staff starts with your team. The goal is for each teacher, and other staff members, to be fully prepared to discuss the methods of communication with students. They will furthermore be able to educate students on emergency procedures that have been established by yourself and your team.

The following will walk you through different methods of communication. You can employ these methods for effective internal and external communications during an emergency at your school. Identifying protocol for using these methods, including identifying specific scenarios where a particular method is appropriate, is one of the initial steps your team will take during pre-planning.

Methods of Communication   


                                Cellular Phones

cell phones.jpg

Telephone Chain (example)

Administrator or Designee

Police Liaison as Appropriate                                                                                                             Superintendent

Police as Appropriate                                                CRT Chair or Contact Person                            Media Liaison

                                           Team Member                                                                  Team Member

Team Member                                   Team Member                          Team Member                     Team Member


Feeder School
Feeder School

                 Two-Way Radios


                 Intercom System

alertwave.com school emergency notification system.jpg

                 Alarm System


                 Panic Button







                 Sign Language


Assessing the Aftermath

After emergency conditions have subsided, rally your team. Your team can and should include individuals prepared to speak to the 3 P's: press, parents, and police. Additionally, these individuals should be prepared to speak with mental health agencies and special needs agencies.

Coping with the aftermath of a crisis will require sensitivity, persistency, consistency and certainty from yourself and your team. If time allows, sit down and run through checklists. Make sure all the individuals who need to be contacted first are checked off the list, and members of the team are specifically assigned to initiate contact.

How your team responds to a crisis will, in many ways, determine how the outside world views that crisis. Here is a crisis communications response checklist, from the Jordan School District Crisis Communications Plan.

The following are some external resources for emergency preparedness:

Homeland Security News: Emergency Communications
Ready.gov: Free Emergency Preparedness Publications
CDC Emergency Action Plan Template
Guide for Developing High-Quality School  Emergency Operations Plans
Child Care Emergency Contact Information and Consent Form
Family Communication Plan
Basic Disaster Supply Kit

For kids:

Family Communication Plan for Kids
Disaster Preparedness Coloring Book