Change my mind: Many schools are doing everything they can to get in front of their emergency planning and preparedness. I also know many schools are waiting for one of two things to happen, even if they aren’t aware they are doing these things: 1. They are waiting for someone to tell them what to do via some state or federal mandate, or 2. They wait for an incident and get sued for negligence in handling the incident they thought would never happen to them. While we can’t say what exactly will happen, we know the likelihood of something happening is relatively high. We just don’t know when or what it will be. Suppose we don’t know what will happen or when; you might ask yourself how we can be expected to prepare for the unexpected or the unthinkable. Can we take a moment and talk about those terms, unexpected or unthinkable? If we are being honest and doing our jobs as safety professionals (or those responsible for the safety of our schools), unexpected and unthinkable should be erased from our minds. We must think of all these things, expect them to happen, and prepare for them. Our jobs as safety professionals, or those responsible for the safety of our schools, are responsible for planning (preparing) for the worst while hoping for the best. Without a plan, hope is not being responsible or meeting your obligations.
We have discussed the necessity of using the FEMA guidelines for emergency planning and preparation: Prevention/Mitigation, Preparation, Response, and Recovery. Let’s now talk about how this same process can and should be used to identify and manage your risks and, therefore, your liabilities. Traditionally, our risk managers concentrated on risks such as broken handrails, slip and fall hazards, safety equipment to protect tradespeople from injury, ergonomic designs, etc. These risks were known to cause work time losses, expenses for injury treatment, lawsuits for negligence, etc. Now, we have these risks that are difficult to identify and are seldom known to us. This is where the FEMA planning process can be beneficial and substantially reduce your risks, exposure to lawsuits, and liability. I know it is difficult to identify the time necessary to navigate the FEMA process, especially if you are unsure where to start. But you have to take the time to start. Ask for help from the experts. Research the topics and processes to expand your knowledge. Become a student of the FEMA process; you can take many free online courses that require very little time commitment and are free. As you engage in the FEMA process, you will quickly learn your risks, how to eliminate them, and, if you can’t prevent them, how to mitigate them.
The two biggest excuses I hear when schools are asked about why they don’t have what they need to have a safe school it is time and money. This may help motivate some people to prioritize their time and budget to prepare their staff for these emergencies. We are hearing more and more about lawsuits that are being filed directly against individual school administrators AND the districts they work for. Some teachers are filing lawsuits against their employers for not protecting them from harm and providing them with the tools they need to respond to acts of violence. The lawsuits are asking for substantial sums of money. We have seen requests for damages of $50 million, $100 million, and, in one case, $27 billion dollars (with a “B”). Now you have to ask yourself, have you done everything possible to mitigate the known threats you face? If you haven’t, are you going to? Would you instead prioritize your time and budget now or risk paying the above sums?