Emergency Planning: Is Your School Prepared?

In October, the New Jersey Department of Education issued a broadcast memo to Chief School Administrators, Charter School, and Renaissance School Project Leads as a reminder of the requirement under N.J.A.C. 6A:16-5.1  that each  school district must have comprehensive safety and security plans which meet the minimum state requirements  to prevent, respond, and recover from emergencies and crises. 

Additionally, the safety and security plans must be developed and reviewed annually with key stakeholders, such as law enforcement agencies, public health agencies, social services providers, emergency management planners, district, school, and other community resources. 

By November 30th of each year, school district leaders must sign and submit a statement of assurance certifying that the plans, policies, and procedures of the School Safety and Security Plan meet the minimum requirements and have been reviewed and updated appropriately.

While non-public schools do not have to meet the same standards as public schools, it is prudent for all schools to develop a comprehensive safety and security plans and engage in periodic reviews to ensure their plans are up-to-date and consistent with best practices. 

Because school safety and security best practices continue to evolve, and personnel and community partners change periodically, the annual review of safety and security plans is a vital part of emergency preparedness. Plans developed in isolation by only school personnel without the input of outside partners may miss important perspectives that impact the effectiveness of these plans. Failure to engage in a collaborative planning process may ultimately impede or interfere with emergency responses from outside agencies if the perspectives of these important stakeholders are not considered. 

When formulating plans, schools should take an all-hazards approach and plan for the multitude of threats and hazards that may be encountered. Schools must look beyond just active shooter events and incidents of targeted violence when engaging in this planning process. Focusing solely on these highly publicized events alone reduces preparedness for more likely incidents like school transportation accidents or severe weather-related emergencies.  These threats and hazards are best identified as part of a comprehensive assessment process. 

It is equally important to plan for all phases of the emergency management cycle. Prevention/ Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery must all be included in a comprehensive plan.

Creating an effective security strategy for schools requires significant effort. Collaborating with stakeholders and outside partners to assess risk and vulnerability, and developing a comprehensive all-hazards plan are the first steps toward realizing security goals. Once achieved, periodic review and revision, along with training and exercising plans, will ensure that overall security strategies follow emerging best practices and that students, staff, and stakeholders are prepared for emergencies and crises.