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School disaster plans help everyone's response
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Teachers, students and parents need to be on the same page when disasters happen during school hours.
Ryan Akers, assistant Extension professor of community preparation and disaster management at Mississippi State University, said basic plans can make a huge difference for everyone involved when emergencies occur.
“Emergency plans are becoming more important to schools, and not just the traditional fire and tornado drills,” Akers said. “Schools are gathering supplies and working on extensive communication plans to help everyone involved.”
Social media and 24-hour news options offer many different ways to keep up with weather and news in our communities.
“Everyone needs to be weather aware,” he said. “In addition to having plans in place ahead of time, refresh everyone’s memory when severe weather is predicted.”
Akers said informed people are less likely to panic when disasters happen.
Along with basic plans, families need to have emergency communication plans that include evacuation and relocation sites.
“If family members are separated or the normal meeting point is not available, know an alternative place where everyone can reconnect,” Akers said.
Memorize important telephone numbers, and do not depend on cell phones or other methods that may not be reliable in a disaster. Depending on the disaster, cell phone service may be limited or nonexistent. Akers recommended texting during major disasters to conserve space for emergency calls that must be made. Simple texts like “IMOK” can tell loved ones you are OK.
“Emergency supply kits are surprisingly easy to assemble with items already under the roof. They just need to be gathered into one quickly accessible location,” Akers said. “Supplies, important papers and phone numbers are often included in these kits.”
Another way to improve response to a disaster is to be involved in community plans.
“The more prepared schools or families are for disasters, the faster order can be restored,” he said.
“First responders can do their jobs more efficiently if everyone understands what is needed. That might just mean staying out of the way,” Akers said. “Parents want to be near their child when a disaster occurs, but they may be denied access because the scene is unsafe, especially for large numbers of outsiders. Wait for the professional responders to bring your child to a safe zone.”
Akers said the start of the school year is a good time to review and enhance emergency plans and family safety.
Melissa Tenhet, an instructor in the MSU School of Human Sciences and director of the Child Development and Family Studies Center, said planning is the key to making sure staff and children know what to do in a disaster. Communicating those plans to parents is essential.
“We understand parents’ concerns for their children. Most of our teachers are parents themselves,” Tenhet said. “Schools and child development centers need parents to be part of the team when it comes to their children’s safety.”
Tenhet said delayed openings and early dismissals are more common than they were many years ago as weather experts have improved their ability to forecast when storms will hit.
“We don’t want families or staff traveling on the road in the middle of a storm,” she said.
Tenhet said early dismissals can be a challenge for working parents, but parents should always have someone who can get their child if they cannot.
“Parents may need more than one backup person ready to help, especially when bad weather is involved. Our goal is to get everyone, staff included, safely home before conditions worsen,” she said.
Tenhet encouraged parents to review handbooks provided at the beginning of the school year and make sure all their contact information is up to date before the first day of school.