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Task 1: Identify Threats and Hazards

There is a cyclic, collaborative process for identifying threats and hazards utilized by the district and school core planning teams at schools throughout the district. The process begins with the district establishing a master list of threats and hazards, which is continually updated and maintained. This list includes those that it requires to be part of every school’s EOP.

The Collaborative Process Used by Schools and Districts to Identify Threats and Hazards at Schools

The following process for identifying threats and hazards repeats as necessary:

  • District establishes/updates master list of threats and hazards
  • Schools use assessments to select which threats and hazards apply to their school
  • Schools have a customized, site-specific list of threats and hazards
  • Schools share any new threats or hazards identified in the assessment process with the district

Threats and hazards fall into four general categories: natural hazards; technological hazards; biological hazards; and adversarial, incidental, and human-caused threats.

Threats and Hazards by Type, and Examples

Threats and hazards fall into four general categories: natural hazards; technological hazards; biological hazards; and adversarial, incidental, and human-caused threats. The following table lists threats and hazards for each of the four categories. Those listed are just examples; there are many others not included.

Threat and Hazard Type Examples
Natural Hazards
  • Animals
  • Earthquakes
  • Extreme temperature
  • Fire, including wildfires
  • Floods
  • Hurricanes
  • Landslides or mudslides
  • Lightning
  • Severe wind
  • Tornadoes
  • Tsunamis
  • Volcanic eruptions
  • Winter precipitation
Technological Hazards
  • Accidental release of hazardous materials from within the school, such as gas leaks or laboratory spills
  • Dam failure
  • Explosions or accidental release of toxins from industrial plants
  • Hazardous material releases from major highways or railroads
  • Power failure
  • Radiological releases from nuclear power stations
  • Water failure
Biological Hazards
  • Contaminated food outbreaks, including Salmonella, botulism, and E. coli
  • Infectious diseases, such as pandemic influenza, extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, Staphylococcus aureus, and meningitis
  • Toxic materials present in school laboratories
Adversarial, Incidental, and Human-caused Threats
  • Active shooters/aggressors
  • Bomb threats
  • Bullying
  • Criminal threats or actions (e.g., kidnapping)
  • Cyberattacks
  • Domestic violence or abuse
  • Fire
  • Gang violence
  • Human trafficking
  • Suicide
  • Violent extremism

District’s Role

Identifying threats and hazards facing a school is a large task, and as such, the district shares this key responsibility with schools. By drawing upon sources of historical information and forecasts from local, state, and Federal agencies, the district is well positioned to identify the universe of threats and hazards that may face any district school.

The district may designate some threats and hazards as mandatory for every school to include on its list and therefore address in its plan. Examples include fires, cyber incidents, severe weather, and active shooter/aggressor situations. A district may also require that all schools include a threat or hazard unique to its geographical location, such as dam failure, if the entire district is vulnerable to this hazard. Districts also should consult state mandates when determining what threats and hazards are mandatory. For example, if a state requires schools to conduct lockdown drills, then schools should have plans in place for every situation that would trigger a lockdown, such as the presence of active shooters/aggressors.

The district should consider the following when developing policies and procedures:

  • What type of training the district should provide to school core planning teams on the process of identifying threats and hazards
  • How the district will identify the universe of all possible threats and hazards faced by any schools in the district (this includes what data should be collected at the district level)
  • The extent to which the district will require certain threats and hazards to be addressed in EOPs for all schools in the district
  • How regularly the district’s or school’s list of threats and hazards should be updated
  • The process for identifying, over time, new or emerging threats and hazards for the district or an individual school

School’s Role

Based on the district’s master list of threats and hazards and the district’s policies and procedures governing threats, hazards, and school-specific assessments, the school core planning team identifies the threats and hazards to include in the school EOP. This list will include those threats and hazards required by the district, as well as any others identified through the school’s assessments.

An Example of a School’s Customized List of Threats and Hazards for its EOP Based on its District’s Master List of Threats and Hazards

School District’s Master List of Threats and Hazards School’s Customized List of Threats and Hazards
  • Earthquakes*
  • Tornadoes*
  • Lightning*
  • Severe wind*
  • Hazardous materials releases from major highways or railroads
  • Radiological releases from nuclear power stations
  • Dam failure
  • Infectious diseases*
  • Contaminated food outbreaks*
  • Toxic materials in laboratories
  • Fire*
  • Active shooters/aggressors*
  • Criminal threats or actions*
  • Gang violence
  • Bomb threats*

*Threats and hazards that the district requires to be part of every school’s EOP

  • Earthquakes
  • Tornadoes
  • Lightning
  • Severe wind
  • Hazardous materials releases from major highways or railroads
  • Infectious diseases
  • Contaminated food outbreaks
  • Fire
  • Active shooters/ aggressors
  • Criminal threats or actions
  • Gang violence
  • Bomb threats

Conduct Assessments to Identify Site-Specific Threats and Hazards

High-quality assessments can be an important way for schools to identify existing or new threats and hazards. Critical information and data can be gathered by assessing many of a school’s defining elements—for example, its site, culture and climate, capacity, and history of school threats. Districts play an important role in guiding schools in carrying out assessments and using the information gathered from them effectively.

District’s Role

After the district has established a master list of threats and hazards facing all its schools, it should work with each of its schools to develop a site-specific list of threats and hazards based on individual school assessments. To support numerous efforts, including corrective actions, it is recommended that a district representative participate in school site assessments. For more information about different types of assessments, see Elements of the School Guide. Toward that end, the district must (1) create policies and procedures that identify the roles of districts and schools in conducting assessments, and (2) determine what measurements tools should be used.

Districts should consider the following when developing goals and procedures:

  • Which assessments are required, which assessments are optional, and which assessment tools the school should use
  • Which assessments require the presence or involvement of district personnel, and which assessments are conducted by schools without the presence or involvement of district personnel
  • The frequency at which the assessments are required
  • How schools should conduct assessments (for example, certain school or district personnel may be required to participate in a walk-through of the school’s building and/or campus for site assessments)
  • Which community partners will participate, and how
  • How assessment data will be used to inform a school’s customized list of threats and hazards
  • The type of training that will be required to conduct assessments

School’s Role

After completing assessments, each school should create a customized, site-specific list of threats and hazards that it will address in its school EOP. If a school core planning team identifies any threats and hazards that may impact the school but that are not on the district’s master list, it should include those on the school’s list and alert the district that additional threats and hazards should be included on its master list. The next time the district updates its master list, the new threats and hazards should be included.

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