Wednesday 4 September 2019

Emergency Planning and Procedures Review Summary

SchoolDocs reviews are always interesting. As the number of schools has increased – so too has the volume of feedback we receive. Hardly surprising, I hear you mutter.

The biggest problem with that feedback is the confusion around process that fuels some of the comments.

The review process is focused on the accuracy of the actual content and any issues or errors you spot, arising from your sharp reading. How well a procedure is being followed is an implementation issue for the school’s management to consider. School-specific details that need immediate updating should be emailed directly to, and not included in your review comments.

Tsunami Procedures
Many comments were received in the latest review asking where a school’s tsunami content could be found or stating that the link didn’t work. In every such case there was no tsunami procedure online because the school has not developed one and submitted it to for inclusion on your site!

Schools need to carefully consider whether your site is at risk from a tsunami event, and if it is, follow the guidelines on the Demo Site to draft your planned response. A quick check suggests that there are schools at risk who would benefit from considering this planning urgently.

Having said that, some schools that raised the question are so far inland that there would be little or no risk of inundation, in which case there will be little point in preparing a tsunami plan for your site.

Here’s a useful resource to help you evaluate your school’s risk: Civil Defence Tsunami Evacuation Zones

Lockdown Procedures
Lockdown procedures are not something that should be published online. This is to prevent a person intending harm to know exactly how a school will respond. A school’s lockdown procedures should exist in printed paper copies issued to all staff.

Every school is different in its layout and accessibility to the public, which means that each school must consider its layout and its infrastructure in order to tailor any response to its reality. The way that doors are positioned, locked, and controlled, the way that communication between admin and staff is handled, and the number and type of pedestrian and vehicle access points a school has to manage, are just some of the many variables that a school needs to consider in drafting its Reverse Evacuation Plan.

The March 2019 attack on mosques in Christchurch resulted in the NZ Police calling for a prolonged lockdown across the local schools’ network, and most Christchurch schools remained locked down until 6.00 pm. This lockdown was complicated by the arrival at school of parents who had been released from their places of work, or were just available to “go and get the kids”. Many became frustrated when they were not allowed to access the school and uplift their children, but that rather misses the point of a lockdown.

The Ministry of Education and the NZ Police are currently coordinating a complete review of lockdowns and any recommendations will be used to improve our review and then to improve your plans. It will mean a delay to our Emergency Planning update, as there is no point in issuing changes, and then making further changes after the report is published.
There were a number of comments from staff members which showed that not all schools have fully briefed their personnel on lockdowns, and possibly have not distributed paper copies for everyone who will be affected in an emergency. Please add this to your next staff meeting agenda.

Your SchoolDocs team is based in Christchurch and we can all claim to have had personal experience with earthquakes. The Canterbury series of quakes is estimated now at more than 12,000 shocks and after shocks. There’s not much to like about earthquakes.
So our content is based on our experience in schools and the advice from Civil Defence. It is worth noting that no child who was “at” school on 22 February was killed by the shaking.
It is really important to have robust checking and monitoring of classrooms as part of a school’s preparedness. Unstable furniture, loose items on shelves, and light fittings probably pose more risk to safety than a building collapse, especially when a building is constructed with a flexible wooden or steel frame.

Checking rooms for earthquake readiness should be a regular part of the caretaker’s role in any school. Children are encouraged to get under desks more to protect their heads from breaking glass and falling objects than to save them from a crushing injury from building collapse, which is usually quite unlikely.

One hidden threat in classrooms can be heavily laden and unlocked metal filing cabinets which can shake open and then tip over as they become unbalanced with their drawers open. A four drawer cabinet could be lethal for a person turtled beside it should it topple!
One Christchurch teacher suffered severe trauma when a whiteboard bounced off its clips and pivoted from the wall silently onto the back of her neck giving her a karate chop style impact which has taken years to treat.

My daughter narrowly missed being struck by a falling 1.2 metre long fluorescent light fitting which disconnected itself from the ceiling on 22 February. She had not dived under her desk!

Collapsing masonry was the main killer, whether it was old unreinforced concrete store fronts, or multi-storey buildings which catastrophically failed, such as the CTV Building, and the PGC Building. The majority of New Zealand’s school classrooms are of framed timber construction and although they may end up in a bad way, will be very unlikely to spontaneously collapse. More modern buildings should have been well planned with earthquakes carefully considered in their design and construction.

School leaders should walk thoughtfully around their site with a clipboard, thinking carefully, and making notes about these matters, and then instructing staff to support the planning by securing items in their rooms, and taking an active and engaged part in regular drills.

Signing Students Out
Whenever an emergency strikes and regardless of what it is, your school needs to be maintaining a record of its kids present, and when they are handed over to a parent or caregiver. For this to work effectively all class teachers need to be well briefed on their role.
During the Christchurch earthquakes, parents turned up to school as soon as they could get there. Some had run across town carrying their heels, whilst others drove, but often roads were blocked, and all movement was on foot.

The first critical step is to have each teacher mark attendance at the designated time, first thing in the morning. This is often an issue for schools, as teachers get engrossed in teaching and delay this important task. It’s very hard to sign someone “out” if you haven’t signed them “in”.

It is complicated by the use of SMS systems as well, as following a really good earthquake it is highly probable that there will be no internet or electricity. A paper-based backup is the obvious answer. Teachers need to understand the importance of recording the person to whom a child is released, and the time that happens. It may not always be the child’s parent.

The parents of some children may work for the emergency or other services and be unable to get to school. Some may be blocked by traffic, damaged infrastructure, or personal injury. On the 22 February, it took Kay Harding from SchoolDocs eight hours to drive home - a trip that usually takes forty minutes.

Your teachers and staff will be there supporting their community, but planning and preparation must be completed in advance. Imagine the reaction when a parent arrives to pick up a child is missing because they have been released to the care of someone else, but the teacher can’t clearly state who it was!

A number of commenters raised the mystery of fire extinguishers. Although there was acknowledgement that they existed, many did not feel confident that they would know how to use one in an emergency. Five minutes once a year should resolve this uncertainty, and it is important that all staff know that they should only tackle a fire with an extinguisher in its earliest stages and if they have an easy avenue to escape.

The biggest theme to this review was the uncertainty of many reviewers about important processes that really need just a quick briefing at a convenient staff meeting. So start scheduling!

by Phil Harding

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