Our self-assessment today focuses on the crisis after the crisis - parent reunification.
1. Does your school or district have a parent reunification plan: a means by which to reunify students with their parents after a traumatic event?
Schools do parent reunification every day as students are sent home from school via bus, walking, or parent transportation. There are times, however, when schools must reunite parents and students after crisis events such as fires, natural disasters, or acts of violence. In these circumstances, the situation is highly emotional, stressful, and chaotic and typically involves extensive media coverage. This is not the time to frantically decide locations and protocols for hundreds of traumatized students and their emotionally compromised parents while the media scrutinizes your every move.
2. Has your school's parent reunification plan been revised and/or tested in the last 2 years?
While many districts or schools do not have any plans for parent reunification, those that do often have rudimentary plans that have not been revised to reflect changes in facilities, technology, enrollment, or personnel. It is critical to put the plan to the test at least through a table top exercise that involves emergency responders and school administrators. While frequent full scale drills may not be feasible, at the least all staff members should understand their roles and responsibilities for parent reunification. A parent reunification plan that doesn't actually work isn't much better than no plan at all.
3. Do school staff members have family emergency plans in place that allow them to fulfill their professional responsibilities after a crisis event?
After a school or community wide crisis event, parent reunification will require all hands on deck. This is not the time for staff members to leave to pick up their own children or take care of their personal needs. Just as the fireman doesn't abandon the fire truck because his shift is over or he needs to go check on his family, school staff members have a moral and ethical responsibility to the children in their care to ensure their safe return to parents and fulfill their part of the chain of custody. All staff members should develop family emergency plans now so that the needs of their family are taken care of in advance.
Parent reunification is a critical, but often overlooked component of every school or district's emergency planning and response. Developing the plan is not difficult, but it requires time and advance planning. Luckily there are great resources to assist in this process. The I Luv U Guys foundation offers comprehensive resources to schools that will walk you through the plan development process. Go to http://iluvuguys.org/srm.html to download virtually everything you will need. Assistance in plan development and training is also available at our website, www.eschoolsafety.org.