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Should We Customize Our Safety Programs?

Kelly Moore
February 28, 2024

Let’s discuss the need to customize your safety program versus standardize it. We all like to tailor and match our wishes to our specifications and needs. I heard this recently when proposing a training program for school leadership. “We like the idea, but you would need to tailor your training to meet the needs of the specific schools.” But if we needed to tailor everything we do in training and emergency response, what we currently know and put into practice would be useless. We could not answer questions like, what are the best practices, or can you look at my emergency operations plans? Because the answer to all of your questions would likely be, “It depends on your circumstances and which school you are speaking about.” While “it depends” is often the answer you will get from me, you must understand what you are expected to do. You must know the foundational elements of school safety and emergency programs to apply what you have learned to your unique situation.

What is the answer to the question, “Do we customize or standardize our safety programs and emergency procedures?” The answer is “Yes.”  Let’s clarify that answer. When we look at training programs and developing our safety programs, we must look at our goals and objectives. Irrespective of which school you are at, the state you live in, or the level of education you are focused on, here are your primary objectives: Stop the harm, Mitigate the impacts, and start the recovery. You may have heard this put differently, more directly, as Stop the Killing, Stop the Dying, and Start the Recovery. From a parent’s perspective, they want their children to get to school safely, be provided a safe and supportive environment, and then return to them in the same or better condition than they started the day. We must also understand that we are not just trying to teach our students and staff to be safe while at school but wherever they are when safety concerns present themselves.

Regarding the standardization of your safety programs. Just as you would teach children when teaching them at the appropriate level for their developmental stage, safety is no different. Teaching safety must be taught at the appropriate level and consistently. At CrisisGo, we are big advocates for The “I Love u Guys” Foundation and their standardized protocols: the Standard Response Protocols, Standard Reunification Method, the Standard Distribution Method, etc. This is because these are simple to teach everyone, are the same for everyone, and apply to every scenario you encounter. These standards are something you can take with you and use them your entire life. This standardization is also the same regarding emergency response and protocols, as seen with the FEMA Emergency Management Guidelines. The Incident Command System (ICS) is a perfect example: Once you understand the fundamentals of ICS, you can apply it to any safety and emergencies you encounter. So, where does customization come in?

In the context of school safety, customization refers to the adaptation or application of specific standards to meet your individual needs. For example, the Standard Response Protocols tell you when and how to conduct an evacuation, shelter, secure, hold, or lockdown. But in the case of an evacuation, it can’t tell you where to evacuate. That is dependent on the circumstances you face: your environment. You may need to evacuate to the left or right from your classroom to get to the evacuation assembly area, but what if your regular evacuation route is blocked or inaccessible? This is where customization is valuable. It is these nuances that force us to customize our protocols and procedures. The need to customize also relates to compliance and state mandates. While the process for a threat assessment remains relatively constant, the forms used, the deadlines that must be met, and the reports that must be created all depend on where you live and the circumstances of the assessment. The same holds true for security assessments. However, the customization is firmly rooted in the standard that had been previously established.

The answer to the question of customize versus standardize is that we should do both. It is essential to understand the standard before we ask for customization. Reversing this process causes confusion and results in perceived conflicts with what the “experts” are telling you. Lack of understanding drives the desire to customize because we think we are unique. While we are all unique, emergencies can be distilled down to fundamentals for which we can create best practices, understanding, and standards while customizing to meet your specific circumstances.

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