Compiling a list of typical school crisis scenario examples can be difficult for two reasons.
Firstly, two individuals may not share the same definition of “crisis”, and – secondly – what may be “typical” for one area of the country may not be typical for another.
These potential difficulties are addressed by the Department of Education in the introduction to its “Practical Information for Crisis Planning” guide. Discussing what constitutes a crisis, the guide uses the Merriam-Webster definition – “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending, especially one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome” – and applies it to any incident that may directly or indirectly affect any number of people, from a single student to an entire community.
To further widen the range of incidents that could qualify as school crisis scenario examples, the guide applies the definition to incidents that happen before, during, or after school, and on or off school campuses. Furthermore, the crisis does not have to occur locally. To address the “typical” issue, the guide states “staff and students may be severely affected by an incident in another city or state” and notes that the events of Columbine and September 11 left the entire nation feeling vulnerable. Even though the guide is more than ten years old, much of it is still relevant in today’s school climate.
The Scope of School Crisis Scenario Examples Doubles
At the time the Department of Education’s guide was published in 2007, it listed eleven possible school crisis scenario examples that schools should consider in an emergency preparedness risk assessment. Since the guide’s publication, the scope of school crisis scenarios has doubled. The table below list the eleven examples included in the guide, plus a further eleven taken from Vermont’s comprehensive School Crisis Guide, which not only includes advice about how schools can prepare against each example, but also what its response should be.
|Typical School Crisis Scenario Examples|
|Per DoE Crisis Planning Guide||Plus Vermont Crisis Guide|
|Natural Disasters||Mass Allergic Reactions|
|Severe Weather||Riots and Demonstrations|
|Chemical/ Hazard Spills||Flooding|
|Bus Crashes||Hostage Situations|
|Bomb Threats||Missing Students|
|Medical Emergencies||Weapons Incidents|
|Student or Staff Deaths||Assaults and/or Fighting|
|Acts of Terror or War||Power/ IT Outages|
|Outbreaks of Disease||Suicide Attempts|
In addition to the above, any unauthorized intruder on school premises could represent a potential school crisis depending on how staff and students react to the presence of an unknown threat. Even if there is no physical danger, the emotional distress could disrupt school activities if staff and students feel unsafe. In this respect, schools not only have to prepare against school crises, but also communicate how the school is being secured in order that staff and students feel they are in a safe environment. It has been shown that the more confidence there is in school security, the better students learn.
Why Effective Communication is More Important than School Hardening
School hardening is a controversial subject, with both proponents and opponents basing their arguments on relatively limited data sets. Naturally schools want to mitigate the risk of an active assailant, but hardening schools against unauthorized intruders appears to be ineffective. In 2018 the Washington Post conducted an analysis of school shootings over the previous twenty years and found that, although 40 percent of incidents occurred at schools in which an SRO was present, in only two of the shootings did the presence of an SRO prevent further bloodshed.
Conversely, there is evidence to suggest that developing a positive school climate with effective communication can avert school crises. In an article published by educationnext.com, the authors provide three examples of when school shootings were averted by students and parents communicating with school authorities. Although some of the typical school crisis scenarios listed above cannot be defended against with neither school hardening nor effective communication, effective communication plays an important role in how schools respond to and recover from a crisis.
The role of communication in preventing, responding to, and recovering from school crises is highlighted throughout the National Education Association’s “School Crisis Guide” (registration required). The guide encourages schools to implement confidential reporting systems and develop crisis communication strategies in order to mitigate the risk of many of the school crisis scenario examples listed above. The guide notes that without these measures – or without communicating that they exist – students are likely to develop their own lines of communication which will devalue response and recovery efforts.
What Solutions are Available to Enhance Communications in Schools?
There are many different types of solutions to enhance communications in schools. The most effective are those which integrate anonymous tip services, mobile panic buttons, and mass notification systems with existing security mechanisms (i.e. CCTV, PA systems, etc.) to create a single, comprehensive high-tech solution at low cost.
To find out more about integrated communication solutions to prevent, respond, and recover from typical school crisis scenario examples, speak with a Rave Mobile Safety School Safety Expert and request a free demonstration of our K-12 solutions.