Back to School Safety Roles and Expectations

With the summer has come and gone,  it’s time for school to start again. Hopefully, you’ve done your best to prepare your facilities to welcome back your students and staff for a new year. This, however, does not simply mean preparing your curriculum and lesson plans,  you also need to ensure that students and staff know how to effectively respond to emergency situations that may arise. This knowledge only comes with adequate training and practice to familiarize the entire school community with roles and expectations.

Back to School Drills

NJ law requires that every school conducts fire and security drills monthly. 

“Pursuant to 18A:41-1, every principal of a school of two or more rooms, or of a school of one room, when located above the first story of a building, shall have at least one fire drill and one school security drill each month within the school hours, including any summer months during which the school is open for instructional programs. A law enforcement officer shall be present at a minimum of one school security drill each school year.”

To emphasize the importance of preparedness, a fire evacuation drill is required within the first 10 days of the school year. The law also requires that a security drill be conducted in the first 15 days of the school year.  

Required Drills- Type and Frequency

The types of drills which must be conducted are specifically defined by the required statement of assurance promulgated by the New Jersey Department of Education. 

Schools are required to hold at least two of each of the following security drills annually:

  • Active shooter
  • Non-Fire Evacuation 
  • Bomb threat
  • Lockdown

What else can you do to practice?

In addition to the mandatory drills detailed above, schools may conduct a variety of other exercises to meet the drill requirements for the remaining required drills. Some other suggested activities to meet this standard are:

  • Shelter-in-place
  • Reunification
  • Testing of school’s notification system and procedures
  • Testing of school’s communication system and procedures
  • Tabletop exercise
  • Full-scale exercise

Additional Drill Considerations

Drills are an essential part of school preparedness but only add to a safe school environment when conducted in ways to make them valuable learning experiences for staff and students. Drills are not intended to instill fear or anxiety, rather they are learning lessons to better prepare our school communities to respond effectively during emergency situations. Drills must always be conducted with this in mind by taking into account the age of the students and avoiding any drills that are designed to trick or startle the school community by using actors or weapons. Any such full-scale exercises require significant planning and advance notification to ensure that everyone involved knows about the drill. Drills of this nature are often conducted by law enforcement and emergency responders with elaborate planning and coordination.

Additionally, schools can follow these suggestions to get the most out of their security drill during the year.

  • Conduct drills at inconvenient times such as lunch, passing, and recess times.
  • Involve teachers in drill reviews and solicit their input in the planning process.
  • Conduct debriefings after drills to identify areas for improvement.
  • Invite police, fire and EMS personnel to observe drills, periodically.
  • Consider having an outside agency conduct a drill observation and make recommendations for improvement.

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