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Crisis Planning for Outdoor Stadiums

Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
Sep 27, 2009

Crisis Planning - Outdoor Stadiums 

It is safe to assume that most schools have emergency management plans that outline appropriate responses to events that happen during the school day. And some schools have written plans that accommodate the needs of a catastrophic event that might occur at a concert, theatre production, or other extracurricular activity. But how many schools have specific plans that provide instructions for administrators and other personnel in the event a tragedy or crisis occurs at an outdoor football, track, or soccer stadium? We suspect not nearly enough. 

One of the primary reasons administrators fail to put written plans into place is because the task seems so enormous and far reaching in its consequences that it is often difficult to know where to begin. Many administrators simply bet on the odds and hope that a catastrophic event will not occur and, if it does, that personnel on duty will act based upon past experiences and gut instinct to decide on an appropriate course of action. While this may indeed work some of the time, we would suggest that schools be far more strategic in their planning. 

When considering the added issues which make a successful response to a crisis at an athletic stadium more difficult, remember the following. 

  • Significant Numbers of Non-Students Will Be Present
  • Activities May Not Necessarily Be Confined to One Area
  • Sheltering & Evacuation Areas Will Be Limited
  • Communication May Be More Difficult
  • Staffing Will Be Unique

Writing The Plan - One individual should not be responsible for writing the plan. A committee should develop and sign off on the plan recommendations and components.The planning committee should include: 

  • School Administration
  • Athletic Staff
  • Custodial Personnel
  • Law Enforcement or Security
  • Concession & Gate Attendants
  • Facility/Event Managers

Additionally, administrators should do the following:

  • A copy of the plan should be kept in the ticket booth, concession stand, and the announcers table or booth at all times. A copy should also be placed in the crisis kit located at the stadium.
  • The plan should be provided to all district groups or personnel that may use the stadium during evening or Saturday events. For example, if community groups or other schools within the district use the facility on a regular basis, a copy of pertinent documents should be provided to designated representatives.
  • The plan should be environmentally protected by using plastic sleeves for paper inserts and placed within a three ringed binder. 

Plan Contents

Table of Contents - Although a stadium plan may not be lengthy, it is likely to be 8-10 pages in length and a table of contents will provide users easy access to important information in a short amount of time. 

Bulleted information - As much as possible, the plan should be written with brevity in mind. Bulleted information is always preferable to a paragraph format. 

Crisis Team Duties and Responsibilities - While supervisory staff might vary depending upon the nature of the event, there are certain duties that should be covered. These duties would include team leader, security, medical, student manager, and communications. 

Critical Call List - During a critical incident it is not the time to use a telephone directory to locate the numbers of essential personnel or agencies. This call list should be written in advance, placed within the plan and should include the telephone numbers of the superintendent, the local utility companies, telephone service, poison control, hospitals, and relocation sites etc.   Administrators should consider placing these numbers in their cell phone address books for easy and quick access.

Critical Equipment Operations - This section of the plan should include directions for operating a fire extinguisher, utility cutoffs (gas, water, electrical), and bull horns. Locations for fire extinguishers at the stadium should also be included. 

Location and Listing of Contents of Crisis Kits - The stadium should have at least one crisis kit available for use. This kit should include flashlight, batteries, blankets, a first aid kit, water, etc. Crisis kit locations should be noted within the plan. 

Instructions for the Following Events - The plan should include instructions for tornado or severe weather, chemical spills, earthquake, fire, or bomb threat. 

Location of CCTV Equipment - If applicable, the location of cameras, as well as operating instructions should be included within the plan. 

Sample Announcements - Evacuation or relocation announcements should be written and placed within the plan. The event announcer should be aware of the content and have easy access to them in case of a need to act quickly. Pre-game announcements should also be included within the plan. This would include such things as announcements regarding district tobacco policies, spectator conduct etc.

As you can see, the plan need not be lengthy.  It just needs to be written.  In real estate it may be location, locaiton, location.  However, in the business of school safety it is planning, preparation, and practice.

Bomb Threats - An Explosive Issue

Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
Sep 27, 2009

Bomb threats pose some unique planning and response issues for school administrators. And, though this is more typically a secondary school problem, planning should occur district-wide to include elementary, administrative and support facilities.

Just what is an appropriate administrative response?

First, evaluate the threat for credibility. Ignoring a bomb threat or always evacuating are two response strategies that can be inherently problematic. The first has some serious and obvious legal and liability implications and the latter can quickly become impractical. The best approach is to carefully evaluate each threat using a team approach and respond based on the merit and circumstances of the incident. While most occurrences of explosive devices being found or detonated on school campuses are not preceded by a communicated threat, this should never be the overriding determiner used in making the final decision. In examining any threat, the primary litmus test is in determining the level of credibility based on all known facts.

Next, determine the level of threat. A low level threat is generally nonspecific with little or no indication of credibility. A medium level threat includes more specific details related to motive, location, etc. A high level threat would include a strong indication that a device is on campus.

 A low level response should include notification of staff with instructions to be vigilant of unusual student behavior. Law enforcement should be notified because any type of bomb threat – regardless of degree of credibility – is a criminal offense. While a detailed search may not be warranted, personnel should be alert for any suspicious or unusual item.

A medium level response would include all of the aforementioned, as well a possible evacuation, relocation of students or leaving them in existing locations. It may involve a general walk through of the school by designated staff or, by necessity it may include a room by room examination. Some response by emergency service providers would be expected.

A high level response would usually involve all of the above, as well as evacuation or relocation of students; law enforcement would potentially treat the campus as a crime scene. Preparations for a search of the campus using special equipment or resources may be necessary.

Maintain security of school’s response strategies while keeping staff informed.  Plan for the arrival of parents on campus during the event.

Staff should be provided with bomb threat procedures and a thorough discussion should occur at the start of the school year. Provisions should include how substitute staff will be made aware of the procedures and any individualized responsibilities that might be involved. Bomb threat procedures should be classified as confidential and details not made public. Any reference to bomb threat procedures in posted information such as classroom flip charts should be generic and general in nature. Typically most schools use fire evacuation notification systems when the need arises to move students to an alternative location. Staff should stay in the routine of having students take their immediate personal possessions with them during any evacuation. This is especially valuable in a bomb threat where a detailed search is necessary. When personal possessions such as book bags are left in classrooms it may cause personnel to spend extra time searching these items.  

Prepare for issues related to communication.

While the chances of an electronic communication instrument such as a cellular phone or two-way radio detonating an explosive device is remote, it can occur, so plan ahead related to communicating with and between staff during the event. Staff supervising students will have to be especially attentive to students trying to use cellular devices and should be prepared to seize phones if necessary. Second, expect media attention on bomb threats, especially with incidents where students are evacuated, relocated or if a suspicious item is found.

In addition, as parents hear about the threat they may call or come to the school. Know that communicating with these two groups will be important and plan in advance on what information can and will be released and how it will occur. Try to gain media cooperation on not publicizing low level threats and sensationalizing others as it may breed copycat incidents.

A variety of resources are available to schools for developing bomb threat response procedures. Schools should always involve emergency responders such as local police and fire departments.

School Access Control - Who Is In Your School?

Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
Sep 27, 2009

Who Is In Your School?

Ask any administrator what causes heartburn and you’re likely to get a variety of answers. But one of the things mentioned at some point in the conversation will be the problem of controlling access in and around the school campus. 

Most schools were built in a time when worrying about trespassers was not an issue, and many schools – particularly in rural areas – have multiple buildings; consequently, students are expected to walk between these structures as they make their way to class. While it’s not the ideal during inclement weather – or when trying to control who has access to hallways, staff and students – it is the reality, and school personnel must work within the limitations given.

One strategy that can help is the use of student and staff identification badges. Picture identification badges have been a mainstay in the business world for several years, and many school districts now recognize the value of the card and use this method to help track who belongs and who doesn’t belong in and around the school.

Only individuals who have never worked in a school environment would question whether trespassing by non students is a concern throughout the school year. And, for some principals, it is a daily problem that takes time and resources to manage. While we would never say identification badges are the panacea, the fact of the matter is, they can help. 

  1. Work within the school community to educate students, parents and staff related to the value of the badge; taking time for this important step can help reduce resistance when implementation begins. Make this a recurring topic when meeting with student focus groups. At the very least, students will appreciate the fact they were asked for an opinion. 
  2. Inform students of the reasons for the display of the badges.  Don't become so busy or dogmatic in response that student voices are not heard.  Listen carefully, and take their concerns seriously.
  3. Use the badge for a variety of purposes, and don’t try to sell the concept on the basis of safety and security alone. The more reasons students have to use the badge in their daily lives, the more likely they will be to accept the card as a viable tool. There are a number of uses for the card and the more value and convenience for students and parents, the more skepticism may be reduced. 
  4. Security aside, badges can also be used for the following: 
    • Library card
    • Debit card for lunch or other school purchases
    • Activity card for entrance into school events
    • Internet usage
    • Electronic class attendance procedures
    • Anonymous "tip line" numbers for student use
  5. Business discounts (Some local businesses will give discounts to students who can display a current picture identification badge.) 
  6. Consider the use of incentives for the proper displaying of the badge. To be eligible for the "contest" students must wear the badge each school day without having to reprint a new one for a pre-designated period of time. Having a monthly drawing for a gift certificate to the student "winners" can be a fun way to reinforce the importance of compliance. 
  7. During the initial implementation it is well advised to try not to make this a disciplinary issue. Student and staff need time to acclimate to the new requirements, and only after a reasonable period of time should students who repeatedly choose not to comply be given a disciplinary consequence. 

Implementation of any new security strategy is a balancing act, and administrators must remember that regardless of the nature of the change there will always be those in the community who believe it is too much, as well as those who believe it is too little. School personnel will have to decide whether or not the use of identification badges is a viable strategy; however, at the very least, it is an option that should be discussed and seriously considered.

Zero Tolerance

Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
Sep 27, 2009

Zero Tolerance - What does it really mean?

You know you’re having a bad day when CNN arrives at school. But it isn’t just an act of school violence that may result in media scrutiny. It may be a student disciplinary suspension resulting from a district’s position of "zero tolerance." Bad day? Indeed.

Do these events sound familiar? 

  • A student is suspended for bringing a small knife, packed by her mother for the purpose of peeling an apple at lunch
  • A five year old kindergarten boy is suspended for kissing a girl on the playground
  • A boy is suspended for giving his cousin a cold medicine tablet for which both students had a prescription

All occurred under the philosophy of zero tolerance without consideration of mitigating factors. So why has zero tolerance suddenly become a hot button issue?  When did the term begin to impact the educational system?  Where did it al begin?

During the Reagan presidential administration of the 1980’s, the term zero tolerance became a slogan and part of the national campaign in the war on drug trafficking and substance abuse. The term was meant to imply that we, as a national public, would not tolerate the sale, use, or possession of illegal drugs and those participating in these activities would face a judicial system offering little latitude in terms of prosecution and/or sentencing. In fact, public sentiment and the courts espoused the idea that when drug couriers were apprehended, they would be given the maximum sentence allowed under the law.  

Congress passed the Gun-Free Schools Act in 1994 requiring any state receiving federal funds to suspend or expel, for at least one calendar year, any student who brought a firearm to school. Though the law allowed a district’s chief administrative officer to modify the discipline on a case by case basis, the perception among educators was that a definitive line had been drawn to address difficult issue of school violence.

Over the last several years this same term - zero tolerance - has now become part of the vernacular with educators and the public related to a variety of behavioral offenses. It is most commonly associated within a student code of conduct addressing issues such as weapons, sexual harassment, drug possession or distribution, etc. Within the proper context, it appropriately communicates a strong message to school communities about what will and will not be allowed on a school campus.  

Perhaps the answer lies in how the term has been used. Zero tolerance for violent behavior and criminal acts in schools has always been the standard. No school or educational institution has ever recognized these types of behaviors as acceptable, and framed in this manner, zero tolerance makes perfect sense. However, zero tolerance has now become attached to the discipline. 

We would suggest zero tolerance not be eliminated, rather school districts rethink how the term is applied and communicated to the public. Suggestions on how to do so include: 

  1. Review all documents within the district’s policies and procedures and make certain, if the term is used, it describes the behavior and not the disciplinary consequence.
  2. Educate staff, students and parents on the appropriate use of the term, as well as how it applies to student discipline.
  3. Promote the difference between the tolerance of a behavior, as opposed to the unwavering punitive consequence.
  4. Use common sense when administering student discipline. No two circumstances are ever completely the same; as the principal, recognize it and be prepared to explain your position when necessary.
  5. Make certain disciplinary policies, practices, and procedures are prudent, measured, and reasonable. Are they a result of thoughtful review or merely an over reaction related to a specific event?

It is easy to adopt terminology that sounds good only to determine later that a clear understanding of intent was not communicated or the application of the strategy was misguided. While zero tolerance has a place in the school vernacular, it needs to be applied judiciously. With a thoughtful explanation to staff, students and parents, help them understand the original intent of the term, and use it only when it makes sense to do so.  

Staff Misconduct - When It's a Problem, It's a Big One

Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
Sep 27, 2009

School Staff and Sexual Misconduct

It’s Not a Problem ‘Til It’s a Problem – And Then It’s a Big One

Hardly a day passes without a report surfacing somewhere indicating a school employee has been accused, arrested or adjudicated for engaging in sexual misconduct with a student. For the average person, the occasional national splash of an incident may not convey the real extent of the problem, but for school principals, careful attention should be paid to these sensitive and emotionally charged incidents.

According to a report prepared for the U.S. Department of Education by Charol Shakeshaft of Hofstra University and Interactive Inc., an estimated 4.5 million students are subjected to some degree of sexual contact by a school employee between kindergarten and twelfth grade.

So what can principals do to help prevent and detect sexual misconduct by school staff?

  • Be observant of a student or staff member’s behavior and watch for unexplained changes or patterns that might be suspicious. A sudden special interest in a teacher by a student might warrant suspicion, especially if the interest goes beyond the normal school day.
  • School personnel should investigate all rumors thoroughly. While some rumors will have no merit, staff should report any unusual information to school officials immediately. Personnel should be reassured the allegation will be investigated, all individuals will be treated respectfully, and confidentiality will be strictly maintained.
  • Keep a record of all investigations. It is important to keep a written record of all complaints and investigations. Sometimes it is years later when allegations resurface and as personnel changes or memories fade, a historical perspective will be beneficial to those that must explain or conduct another review of the circumstances surrounding an allegation.
  • Remember to use a Child Abuse Hotline. If the student involved is a minor, error on the side of caution when considering whether or not to "hotline" the situation. If the information provided is not sufficient for the Division of Children’s Services to be involved, they will say so. As mandated reporters, school personnel should make the call and let others decide if further investigation is warranted.
  • Provide staff development to all staff

Professional development on this topic should include the following:

  1. Board Policy related to staff to student sexual harassment and contact
  2. Reporting procedures
  3. Expectations of privacy and confidentiality related to investigations or allegations of inappropriate behavior or conduct
  4. Reminders that all staff are part of the solution related to eliminating this type of destructive behavior
  5. Review of both the Employee and Student Handbook with careful attention paid to the topic of harassment of any kind

NOTE: It is recommended principals ask staff to provide a signature indicating these polices have been reviewed and understood.

Establish a school climate that protects innocent staff from being accused and sets parameters and boundaries for student/staff interaction.

The following tips can help with these efforts: 

  • Physical contact with students should be limited to only that which is necessary. Some students may misconstrue an innocent action by a teacher; consequently, when a staff member puts himself in a position for physical contact, especially on a repeated basis with the same student(s), it can cause some to question the motive.
  • Establish guidelines for giving of gifts and cards to students. Gifts of a personal nature given to any student should be discouraged or have administrative approval. Staff should be requested to alert a supervisor when receiving a gift from a student that may be inappropriate.
  • Except for school sanctioned events and activities, socializing with students outside of school should be prohibited. A number of cases of inappropriate relationships have surfaced when the teacher and a student were seen in a social setting or alone with each other away from school. Staff should be reminded students may misinterpret this type of activity, so the use of sound professional judgment is critical.
  • Staff should use only district issued computers while on the job. Should a complaint arise and an investigation be initiated, the staff member’s school computer should immediately be secured. If personal computers are used at school this may create a legal issue for the investigator.  

While dialogue between principal and staff on this subject may be difficult to initiate, it is a conversation that must occur. Unfortunately, these types of situations happen in our profession and occasionally principals find themselves involved in a personnel investigation related to sexual misconduct. Being proactive and honest with staff regarding expectations, policies and procedures on this topic is a must in the 21st Century.

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