R5 Westchester School Safety: Home & School Crisis Plans

Practiced plans for escaping an emergency situation

Stepped-up security measures have changed another schoolhouse fixture. For decades, safety drills have been part of scholastic life, from the “duck-and-cover” alerts of the Cold War era, to the regular fire drills that might be easy to mistake as a fun escape from the classroom. Now, lockdown and evacuation drills are becoming routine. 

“Each school has a crisis plan that has to be updated annually and practiced throughout the year,” says Miraglia. “Schools should have a drill each month or two: Don’t let the plan sit there all year without practice. Frequent fire drills are required, though there hasn’t been a school fire-related fatality in decades. Now, there are the 21st-century threats: weather disasters, violence—we should drill on that.”

Regular drilling has paid off in recent real-life lockdowns. A Facebook posting about a boy bringing a gun to school triggered a lockdown at White Plains High School. Rhonda Herman, whose daughter, Jade, is a sophomore at the school, is pleased with how the threat was handled. A pair of robo-calls alerted parents that the lockdown was in progress and when it was completed, and offered assurance that the students were in no danger. “They cleared the school in short order,” says Herman, who is on the PTA board starting this fall. “They obviously were prepared, because this worked. The kids were calm; this is the world they’ve grown up in—if the adults aren’t freaking out or don’t seem worried, the kids will stay relaxed. The school gave up all the information they knew about the incident; they’re not trying to hide anything.” 

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Jake Grande, 12, a Highlands Middle School student from White Plains, is a big supporter of drills. “They save lives,” he says. “We always have drills.” There are two scenarios that Jake and his fellow students drill for: In a “stay put” situation, the teacher locks the classroom doors, and students keep working. In a lockdown, the teacher pulls down the window shades, shuts off the lights, and students retreat into the corners of the classroom with the fewest windows. “We crouch down and get as hidden as possible,” he explains. This past school year, a student injury resulted in a real life application of the Stay Put drill; Jake says such incidents don’t faze him.

Families should have emergency procedures in place, too. Parents should make plans with friends and neighbors to decide who can pick up the kids in case of an emergency, where they will meet if the home or school becomes unsafe, how they will stay in touch and keep one another informed. It pays to get these matters straight in advance to avoid confusion in the chaos following an incident. Keep the kids involved in the planning: As Herman pointed out, they grew up with this. They may be well-prepared to help find solutions. “They can ask, ‘Is this working? Is this the right thing to do? How can we fix it?’ Jade notices when things are on higher alert. Being prepared is a good thing. Knowing what you need to do keeps you calm and safe.” 

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