National School Safety and Security Services is a leading national expert resource on school crisis preparedness plans and school emergency planning training and consulting. Our services include providing facilitated tabletop exercises to help schools exercise their written crisis plans so as to better gauge how these plans would work in a real emergency.
Tabletop exercises provide a simulation of emergency situations in informal, stress-free environments. Tabletop exercise facilitators, school safety professionals experienced in managing school emergencies and crisis situations, provide a scenario and series of events to stimulate discussions by participants who assess and resolve unfolding problems based on their existing plans. The school tabletop exercise allows school participants to examine the roles, responsibilities, tasks, and overall logistics associated with managing a similar real-life emergency situation and make subsequent adjustments in their school emergency/crisis plans.
While full scale drills are very educational, they typically are labor and time intensive. Tabletop exercises can provide a less stressful, more time effective method of taking a school’s emergency/crisis planning to the next level. Full and half-day sessions, often done during school professional development days, allow school leaders to avoid having school emergency / crisis plans collect dust on a shelf.
Each school district, and individual schools within the various districts, must develop their own school crisis preparedness plans and school emergency plan guidelines. A “cut and paste” approach using other school emergency plans will typically not lead to full ownership and successful school crisis planning within one’s school. In fact, it could lead to increased liability for school officials.
The goal is to foster school emergency planning sustainability past the grant period by introducing school district and building crisis teams, and their first responders and community partners, to the concept of tabletop exercises as a tool for ongoing use at the district and individual building levels so tabletop exercises become part of the school building and district emergency preparedness culture. This will lead districts to regular action of taking plans off the shelf and putting them into practice in an informal, non-threatening, and interactive professional development setting. Tabletops will sustain the emergency planning process by making school staff and their partners comfortable with tackling not only various hypothetical scenarios on an ongoing basis past the grant period, but also better identifying methods for managing common crisis elements such as parent-student reunification issues, mobilization of support services (transportation, food services, etc.), parent and media crisis communications, etc.
Our facilitated tabletop exercises have also revealed some common, interesting “lessons learned” including:
- Many school crisis teams have unrealistic expectations of their public safety partners in a crisis. For example, school teams often mistakenly believe the number of police officers who would respond to their school in an emergency is much greater than the police department staffing levels can actually immediately provide.
- A number of school crisis teams have a tendency to jump into lockdown modes faster than what may be necessary based upon the threat at hand.
- Managing parents and the media will typically be the two biggest “crisis after the crisis” matters school teams must deal with following an emergency incident. Yet crisis plan evaluations and tabletop exercises consistently find these components of school emergency guidelines to be the weakest parts of school plans.
- School crisis plans too often lack adequate backup levels of leadership and planning.
- Parent communication and parent-student reunification plans are typically not well developed.
- Crisis media protocols, especially joint agency protocols, and crisis media training are often lacking.
Schools prepared for crisis and emergency situations:
- Train staff on school security and emergency planning issues.
- Assess and refine school security plans.
- Exercise school crisis plans.
Are you prepared?
For information on scheduling a facilitated tabletop exercise, contact Ken Trump