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Training and Exercises
This section describes the critical training and exercise activities the school will use in support of the plan. This includes the core training objectives and training frequency to ensure that staff, students, faculty, parents, and community representatives understand roles, responsibilities, and expectations.
Key training components that districts should help schools develop are listed below. These activities may apply to some, but not all, of the plan’s stakeholders:
- Hold a meeting. The district can encourage schools to meet at least once a year to educate all parties on the plan. Schools may hold a meeting for the whole school community, just teachers and staff, just parents, or any other stakeholder groups.
- Visit evacuation sites. The district can encourage schools to show involved parties (e.g., teachers and staff, community partners, others with a role or responsibility in the plan) not only where evacuation sites are located but also where to find specific areas, such as reunification areas, media areas, and triage areas.
- Give involved parties appropriate and relevant literature on the plan, policies, and procedures. The district can create flip charts and other quick reference guides for schools based on school EOP content that is common across all schools in the district. It can also communicate common information about the plan on the school and district website(s); via emails and letters to students, staff, and families and guardians; and through the media or other communication outlets.
- Post key information throughout the building. It is important that everyone in the building is familiar with, and has easy access to, information about matters including evacuation routes and shelter-in-place procedures and locations. The district can help to ensure that this information is effectively communicated to the whole school community (students, staff members, families and guardians, visitors with disabilities and other access and functional needs, and individuals with limited English proficiency) by producing accessible information in multiple languages, Braille, and in electronic formats that comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
- Familiarize students, staff, and families and guardians with the plan and community partners. The district can help facilitate community engagement on the plan by bringing community partners (e.g., law enforcement officers, fire officials, and emergency medical service personnel [EMS]) that have a role in the response or recovery process into schools to talk with students, staff, and families and guardians. This will make school-based stakeholders more comfortable working with these partners.
- Train staff on the skills necessary to fulfill their roles. The district can help to train school and district staff, as well as substitute teachers, on their roles in their respective school EOPs and their positions supporting the ICS. These roles and positions will require special skills, such as first aid, threat assessment, and provision of personal assistance services for students, staff members, families and guardians, and visitors with disabilities and other access and functional needs. The district can help to
- Assess and prioritize training needs for schools;
- Identify training topics and guidelines;
- Provide training to staff or provide staff with recommendations of organizations that provide training;
- Establish training certification requirements or guidelines;
- Assign professional development credits or hours for training or dedicate professional development time for training; and
- Assess school practitioners on training.
A school’s training program should be based on guidance or requirements from the district’s policies and procedures, which may address any of the following topics:
- The minimum requirements for when and how trainings occur
- The extent of requirements or recommendations regarding the frequency of community meetings on the school EOP
- The extent of requirements for trainings on special skills, such as first aid or the provision of personal assistance services to students or staff with disabilities and other access and functional needs
This section also establishes the expected frequency of exercises to be conducted by the school, which may be influenced by district, state, or local requirements. Exercises may range from basic fire and shelter-in-place drills to full-scale, community-wide drills that realistically portray a crisis and show the role the school plays in school district and municipal planning. The exercises below require increasing amounts of planning, time, and resources. Ideally, the district will work with schools to create an exercise program, building from a tabletop exercise up to something more advanced, like a functional exercise.
- Seminar or orientation sessions. These are informal, stress-free lectures followed by discussions. Often, the content of the seminar or orientation is related to emergency management, and offers an orientation on one or more district policies, protocols, or procedures and/or a section of the school EOP (e.g., Communications Annex).
- Tabletop exercises. Tabletop exercises are small-group discussions that walk participants through a scenario and the courses of action a school will need to take before, during, and after an emergency to lessen the impact on the school community. This activity helps the school core planning team assess the school EOP and resources, and facilitates an understanding of emergency management and planning concepts.
- Drills. During drills, school personnel and community partners (e.g., first responders, local emergency management staff) use the actual school grounds and buildings to practice responding to a scenario.
- Functional exercises. Functional exercises are like drills but involve multiple partners; some may be conducted districtwide. Participants react to realistic simulated events (e.g., a bomb threat, or an intruder with a gun in a classroom), and implement the plan and procedures using the ICS.
- Full-scale exercises. These exercises are the most time-consuming in the exercise continuum and are multiagency, multi-jurisdictional efforts in which all resources are deployed. This type of exercise tests collaboration among the necessary agencies and participants, public information systems, communications systems, and equipment. An Emergency Operations Center is established by either law enforcement or fire services, and the ICS is activated.
Before deciding how many and which types of exercises to implement, the district should work with school core planning teams to consider the costs and benefits of each exercise, as well as any state or local requirements. For example, while a tabletop exercise may be less costly and less time-consuming to run, a full-scale exercise provides a more realistic context for the simulated response to an emergency, thus providing more constructive feedback to improve the plans. If students are involved, the district should work with schools to consider the age of the student population when selecting the appropriate exercise. The district should also work with schools to consider the extent to which parents should be included, and should consider the cultural diversity of their populations.
To support the effective execution of an exercise, the district should work with school core planning teams to do the following:
- Include community partners such as first responders (law enforcement officers, EMS practitioners, and fire department personnel) and local emergency management staff
- Communicate information in advance to avoid confusion and concern
- Conduct exercises under different and nonideal conditions (e.g., during different times of day, points in the academic calendar, absence of key personnel, various school events, and under different weather conditions)
- Ensure consistency with common emergency management terminology
- Debrief and develop an after-action report that evaluates results, identifies gaps or shortfalls, and documents lessons learned
- Discuss how the school EOP and related procedures will be modified, if needed, and specify who is responsible for doing so
A school’s exercise program should be developed based on guidance or requirements from the district’s policies and procedures, which may address any of the following topics:
- The extent of Federal, state, and local laws, requirements, or recommendations regarding the type and frequency of exercises
- How an ideal exercise program is defined for the district, based on the threats, hazards, and functions addressed in school EOPs across the district
- How much time and how many resources are available for exercises
- The feasibility of conducting certain exercises
- Which community partners should be involved in different exercises