How To Conduct Proper Tactical Site Surveys

When a crisis strikes a school, proper tactical site surveys can mean the difference between life and death for those involved. Every year, unexpected disasters strike American schools. Lightning strikes, tornados, fires, suicides, homicides, hostage situations, and explosions are all tragedies that we all wish never happened at school but on rare occasions do. When disaster strikes, ready access to a quality tactical site survey can enable crisis responders to work much more effectively.

A tactical site survey is a process that should be done in every school facility once each year. Your state or local emergency management agency may provide free technical assistance in preparing a tactical site survey. There is also the option of hiring a consultant to come in and prepare a site survey but this option is often very expensive. Many schools utilize a local safety team created specifically to conduct site surveys. A safety team comprised of building level staff and public safety personnel makes a formal on site assessment of the facility and grounds to spot potential hazards, record key information, and develop important contingency plans before a crisis occurs. The results of the survey are then recorded in written form and copies of the survey packets placed in secure storage in the office, at the main school system administrative office, and at various public safety facilities. This insures that the information can be retrieved quickly no matter where the crisis takes place or how widespread it may be.

It is best to select the safety team using people who have a sincere desire to produce a quality product. Site survey work can be tedious, requires creativity, and demands attention to detail. Once the team is selected, team members should develop a site survey form if the organization does not already have one (or you can pull a sample off of the Bibb County Campus Police Website at The form should serve as a ready checklist that insures that all pertinent information be recorded. It is a good idea to supplement the form with good quality still photographs and video of the interior and exterior of the building.

The site survey should be a complete inspection of the facility and grounds to make sure that every relevant feature of the building is recorded. Examples of items that can be important to first responders includes:

—location of power main and all electrical panels

—location of telephone boxes

—phone and address listings for all critical school personnel

—emergency phone listings for all possible emergency responders, maintenance personnel, and key system officials

—locations for assembly of evacuated students, suitable emergency command center spots, rescue helicopter landing sites, and etc.

—location and routes to nearby emergency medical facilities

—an updated copy of the schematic plans for the building

—information regarding any alarm systems or security camera systems in place in the building

—location of student emergency contact records

It can be amazing how important some of these items can be during an emergency. In one case, there was an accidental detonation of an anti-personnel grenade in a classroom (brought to school by a student who thought that it was a dummy round). Because the school had previously made plans for an emergency helicopter landing site, all injured students could be air evacuated out quickly when traditional emergency transport was overloaded by massive casualties. By planning for a scenario that most people would have found to be ridiculous before the fact, lives were saved by thoughtful and creative school officials.

There are a number of agencies and organizations that make information about site surveys available to schools. Two that are particularly helpful at the National School Safety Center at (805) 373-9977 or website address, and the Office of the Governor — Georgia Emergency Management Agency at (404) 635-7244 or E-mail at

One word of caution is needed at this point. There is no such thing as a“canned” site survey where you simply change the name of the school and copy a survey in use elsewhere. An effective site survey must be done on site to meet the needs of the specific facility in question. Just like effective safe school planning, quality tactical site surveys require time and effort.

Once the tactical site survey packet is completed each year, copies should be distributed to be secured in the appropriate locations for use by emergency responders.

The packets should be used whenever a mock crisis drill is conducted at the site. This will help to point out any deficiencies in the survey and will get local emergency service providers and school officials used to using the survey packets to manage an incident.

The good news is that the process becomes much easier once the initial site survey has been completed. The surveys conducted in later years need only to insure that all information is still up to date, no new hazards have developed, and that any structural modifications to the building are recorded. Tactical site surveys are an important component of a safe school environment.

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