Friday, April 20th, 2018

Lessons Learned from Alissa Parker

Posted by Rachael Ballard Filed under: *Hot Topics*, Crisis Response, Programs, Student Violence, Student Well-Being

Mother of Emilie Parker & Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools

On Thursday, April 12, 2018, we kicked off our School Safety Talks with a webinar series on crisis prevention, preparedness, and response with our first speaker Alissa Parker, Mother and Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools. During “School Safety – A Sandy Hook Parent’s Perspective,” Alissa recounted her emotional experience as a parent on December 14, 2012; detailed how the school, first responders, and the community respond to the tragedy; and provided several lessons learned from the tragedy. Below are a few key takeaways from her moving webinar.

Simple measures can save lives. On the day of attack at Sandy Hook School, I thought back to the last time I was at the school, which was for parent teacher conferences. Entering the school, parents were buzzed into a lobby with big glass windows. Once inside the building, I noticed that classroom doors did not lock from the inside. I remember thinking, “once you’re in, there’s nothing to stop you.” I never imagined something like an attack could happen at my child’s school. Ultimately, I dismissed the safety issues that worried me that day. Tragically, on the day of the attack, our staff and students simply couldn’t secure their classrooms or get to safety quickly enough. There just were not enough protective layers like a secure entry and quick locking classroom doors.

We are all first responders. Until trained emergency responders arrive on scene, students, teachers, staff, and volunteers may be the only help available to others. It is important to consider how well staff and students are trained and equipped to respond in a crisis.

Practice makes progress. During emergencies, the problem solving part of the brain shuts down and individuals default to what they’ve been trained to do. However, creative solutions – like shoving a bookcase against the door to jam it – can save lives. Staff and students can exercise creative problem solving during education and drills, discuss solutions and ideas with leadership, and add these solutions to formal training if they are deemed safe and viable. Saving students and staff this “think time” can make all the difference in their ability to respond quickly and effectively.

Prepare to step into each other’s roles. Many school’s emergency plans put the principal alone in charge. However, principals are often the first to run toward danger, which makes it incredibly important to empower key staff to step in and take charge whether the principal is available or not. For example, if a teacher suspects there is a security crisis, they should call for a lockdown and not wait for the principal. Schools need to plan and practice for all situations and everyone needs to know what to do in each situation.

Collaboration is key. First responders have a critical role in emergencies. When schools assess their emergency plans, they should consult these experts. They can help create clear communication plans, lockdown and evacuation protocols, and reunification processes. Once these are in place, continual practice and communication to parents and families is critical. It’s important to tell them what to expect–or better yet, have them participate in education and drills.

Safety is a process. There really isn’t a checklist we can complete to ensure that we’ve done everything to ensure school safety. Plus, every school and community is different. There won’t be a one size fits all solution. So, where to start? Frustrated by this, Michele Gay, my co-founding partner at Safe and Sound Schools and a fellow Sandy Hook Mother, assembled with me a team of national experts to create a model for schools to approach school safety and teach their staff best practices in a user-friendly way. It was a place to start. This model grew into our Straight-A Safety Improvement program and toolkits. The model encourages schools to look at school safety as a continuing process—Assess, Act, and Audit—to help assess school safety, create a viable action plan, and continually audit the measures, practices and policies in place. Schools can implement the program and download the free tool kit here.

Everyone needs a seat at the table. All staff, parents, and community members have valuable perspectives on safety and thus need a seat at the table during safety discussions.

Join us for our next webinar on Thursday, April 26, 2018 at 2 p.m. with Paul Timm, board-certified Physical Security Professional (PSP), Vice President of Physical Security Services at Facilities Engineering Associates and Safe and Sound Schools speaker and special advisor. Register here.

This blog is the original work of Safe and Sound Schools and is not to be reproduced in part or whole without express permission.

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