School safety in 2021 will be about getting back to basics. At the start of the 2020/2021 academic year, we published a blog suggesting multi-hazard planning in K-12 schools was more important than ever because of the need to integrate COVID-19 mitigation strategies with daily operations, the increased potential for adverse events, and a shortage of staff to monitor student safety. Subsequently, the pandemic escalated to such an extent that many schools closed, and students were taught remotely.
Despite concerns the pandemic may not have yet peaked, there is hope that – due to the nationwide vaccination program – COVID-19 infection rates will soon start to decline. Once infection rates have fallen below state-mandated thresholds, school districts will be able to transition from remote and hybrid learning to having students back in class full-time. However, while having schools fully reopen will be a positive milestone in the battle against COVID-19, it will create challenges for school safety.
The Challenges for School Safety
The challenges for school safety are much the same as they were at the start of the academic year – only more severe. Evidence suggests children play a bigger role in the transmission of COVID-19 than previously believed, the projected increase in cyberbullying has become a reality, and teaching staff are leaving the profession in record numbers. These challenges alone can overwhelm remaining staff – notwithstanding the threats to school safety that existed before the pandemic also exist.
Therefore, while public health agencies continue to roll out advice about operating schools during COVID-19 and considerations for disease prevention, students will continue to have accidents, health problems, and mental health issues; natural and manmade events will be just as disruptive as they were before the pandemic; and schools will still be required to conduct mandatory drills. How can schools best overcome these challenges to ensure the safety of students, teachers, and staff?
Effective Communication will be Essential
Regardless of the measures implemented by school districts to safely return students to class full time, there will be occasions when staff will be absent due to illness or self-quarantining. Their places will most likely be taken by agency staff, substitute teachers, or college students drafted in to help address staffing crises; and, even if these replacements are provided with school safety preparedness training, it will be impossible to remember every emergency protocol at short notice.
Therefore, it is a good idea to give staff – both regular staff and replacement staff – access to communication solutions with which they can:
- Alert colleagues to adverse events
- Seek assistance when necessary
- Review emergency protocols as required
- Receive critical communications and updates
- Contribute to a coordinated response
- Help towards the continuity of operations
While, in theory, a smartphone could fulfil all these functions; when an emergency occurs, every second counts. You don’t want an inexperienced or substitute teacher panicking and struggling to find the right contact – potentially delaying a response and putting the lives of students in danger. Similarly, you don’t want an inexperienced or substitute teacher confusing a shelter-in-place alert with an evacuation fire alarm and leading a class of students into the sights of an active assailant.
Overcoming the Communication Challenge
The Rave Panic Button is a smartphone app capable of simultaneously alerting colleagues and emergency responders to the risk of danger, the nature of the danger, and the location of the danger. The app’s intuitive interface is easy to understand in the most stressful of circumstances and can be activated with just two taps of a smartphone screen. Upon activation, every user is alerted, contacted with a status check, and advised on the appropriate emergency protocol if necessary.
Throughout any event – emergency or non-emergency – the app can act as a portal for two-way communication via text, voice, and/or video. This enables users to receive critical communications and updates, and incident managers to increase their situational awareness. The ability of the app to facilitate a coordinated response minimizes the duration of disruptions, contributes towards the continuity of operations, and – most importantly – helps keep students and staff safe.
To find out more about overcoming the communication challenge for school safety, you are invited to get in touch and speak with our team of communication experts.