Just like it is important to plan for emergencies at home, it is just as important to have emergency plans for when your child is at school. You know more about the special needs of your child than your school or child care.
Be prepared to help plan for emergencies. Your school or child care should be able to tell you what the plan is for all types of emergency drills. Make sure you understand how you will be contacted in case of emergency.
Your child’s specific needs may be new to the program. Speak up and offer a time to talk through the emergency plans. Offer your assistance in thinking through this learning experience for your child. Your school administrator or child care director should welcome any help or suggestions you can provide when it comes to keeping all children safe.
There are rules and regulations for schools and child care centers about preparing for safety in different situations. The Texas School Safety Center has created an Emergency Management Toolkit to help schools meet these requirements.
Your child’s school is expected to have drills routinely. These drills help students and staff members know what to do in case of a real emergency. If the practice is done routinely, it becomes automatic, so there is less confusion during a real emergency. School drills include:
- Evacuation drills, to ensure that students can be moved to safety for any of a number of scenarios, including fire
- Weather drills, to ensure that students stay safe from acts of nature such as severe weather and flooding
- Shelter-in-place drills to protect students from contaminants and other hazardous materials
- Lockdown drills, to ensure that students can safely take cover when an internal threat exists, and that they are ready to take further action should it be needed
Just as all children are different, all schools and child care centers are different. Each administrator or director has different skill sets. Sometimes it takes outside expertise to help point out trouble spots. That’s where you can help.
Here are some scenarios to help you think about how your school or child care may need to prepare your child for emergency drills.
By design, all children react to the irritating and loud sound of a school fire alarm. But some children with disabilities might have extreme reactions to this sound. Don’t give in to the urge to protect your child from the noise by removing him from school before a drill. When a real emergency happens there is no warning. Your child and others will be in more danger if he has an extreme reaction. Experiencing the drills can help your child become accustomed to the sound so that he does not overreact in the case of a real emergency.
Before a drill, make sure your child is aware that the noise will happen. For the first drill, prepare your child with sound eliminating headphones or plain ear plugs. After a few practices, teach him where the headphones or ear plugs are so he can retrieve them and put them on himself when the alarm sounds. As he becomes more accustomed to the sound, he should have less and less need for the hearing protection. The goal is for your child to be as independent and calm as possible, both during drills, and if a real emergency happens.
If your child uses a wheelchair or would not be able to quickly exit a building on his own during an emergency, make sure the school has a plan for wherever your child may be in the school. This would include the cafeteria, library, classroom or a therapy room. Avoid the urge to use an elevator during a drill. Elevators are not available during a fire. Those who are caring for your child need to practice real life strategies.
The plan should be as detailed as possible. Learn the answers to these questions: Who is assigned to assist my child? What will this assistance look like? Is the plan safe for everyone involved? Then plan for the “what-ifs,” such as, What if the teacher or designated staff who knows my child best is absent? Or, What if there is an incident on the school bus? Planning for all of the what-ifs helps everyone feel prepared and confident.
If your child has medical issues, preplanning is so important. Again, talk about the what-ifs. What if my child has to be in lockdown for an extended amount of time? Do all staff who work with my child know what to do? Where are medications and medical supplies kept? Are clear instructions and expectations for my child’s care available at all times?
UTEP/UT-Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program has created a medical information card (PDF) that you can download and fill out. It should be carried in your child’s pocket or backpack at all times.