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Prepare to 'Weather' the Storm

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Prepare to 'Weather' the Storm

Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
Sep 27, 2009

Preparing for Severe Weather

With the recent tragedy in Enterprise, Alabama in which a tornado struck the high school during the school day, it is prudent to once again reflect upon the strategies that should be part of a school’s emergency planning.

Practicing for Situations of Severe Weather

While certain parts of the country are more susceptible to severe storms and may warrant additional drills, a minimum of five should occur regardless of the location. From the first day of school until the last student leaves at the end of the school year, there is always the possibility for a weather related emergency; therefore, two drills should be held the first week of school with quarterly drills to follow.

The first severe weather drill should be completed as a "walk through" to orient new students and staff to the procedures involved; the second drill should be conducted to assess true readiness for such an event. With each exercise, staff should have the opportunity to debrief and discuss problems that arise.

School Maps and Evacuation Routes

All rooms within the school should contain evacuation and sheltering maps posted at approximately eye level and adjacent to the exit. Maps and written directions should be easily read with large fonts and color coded. Additionally, designated sheltering areas should be clearly marked as such. In the event patrons or visitors need to quickly seek shelter outside of the normal school day, they should be able to find the designated areas through directional signage posted in the hallways and throughout the building.

Weather Alert Radios

While some schools have agreements with local authorities that result in a notification of impending severe weather, using a weather alert radio provides a backup system. For others, a weather alert radio may be the primary source of weather information. Regardless, the weather alert radio should be placed in an area where there is constant adult presence.

Emergency Management Plans

Emergency management plans specific to severe weather should be reviewed by outside emergency response providers to help ensure all contingencies have been covered. Fire department or other qualified officials should review the identified sheltering locations in the school and "sign off" that the areas selected are appropriate.

Alternate provisions for notification should be made for areas of the school where staff and students may have difficulty hearing the internal alarm. These locations may include band, orchestra and music rooms, industrial technology, physical education, etc.

School Events off Campus

School and district staff accompanying students on trips away from the school should be well versed on actions to take if severe weather strikes. This includes not only when they are at their appointed destination, but in transit as well. One should not try to outrun or out maneuver a tornado. Seeking immediate shelter in the closest well constructed building or having students move to low areas such as a ditch or depression in the ground and assume a duck and cover profile is prudent, provided standing or rushing water is not a hazard.

Emergency Planning for Physically Disabled Students

For many schools the student population will contain both permanently physically disabled students, as well as those with a temporary handicapping condition due to accident or injury. For both groups, advance planning will need to occur. Evacuation and sheltering plans should be written for these students designating sufficient staff to help transport them to the sheltering or evacuation location. These plans should cover each class period, as well as lunch and other non-instructional times. Unless advised by parent or physician, the school should practice these evacuation and sheltering procedures with these students so all understand the expectations and steps in the process.

Planning for Parent Arrival and Student Dismissal

Since knowing exactly when and where a tornado will strike is not possible, dismissing students during a storm warning can put them in harm’s way and increase the risk that something tragic will happen. Procedures should be written to guide staff when parents arrive and ask for the release of students during a sheltering event. This information and the accompanying procedures, along with how the school generally handles a severe weather event, should be included in the student handbook, posted on the district or school’s website, and given to parents through other appropriate venues.

Regardless of how well school administrators plan for severe weather events, it is not possible to totally predict how and when nature’s fury will strike; however, thorough and collaborative planning can provide the best opportunity for safety when tornados or other severe weather interrupt the school year.


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