Emergency Response Teams in Action

It is lunchtime at Stoney-field Elementary School. The school is located in a small town in mid-America and nearly 200 first, second and third graders are noisily eating their lunches as their teachers look on. It is parents’ day and many of the children’s parents have come to school to eat lunch with their kids.

Suddenly, a loud explosion rocks the kitchen and cafeteria. There is mass confusion. Stunned students, parents and teachers start screaming and running while thick, black, acrid smoke starts billowing out of the kitchen area into the cafeteria and down the hall towards school classrooms. Flying glass and debris injure more than 20 students, parents, teachers and cafeteria workers.

The principal, who is in her office, hears the explosion and immediately moves towards the cafeteria. Seeing the black smoke, she rushes back to her office and calls 911. She also pulls the fire alarm and the school’s emergency evacuation procedures are activated. She then calls the district office and informs the superintendent. The superintendent orders the district crisis response team to head to the school.

Hearing the explosion and the fire alarm, school crisis response team members grab their gear and walkie-talkies and converge on an area safely away from the cafeteria to receive instructions and begin the task of evacuating the building, caring for the injured and accounting for everyone at the school. Those team members who are assigned to triage also bring their individual crisis response backpacks.

The principal decides the school command post will initially be set up at the edge of the parking lot away from the building. She immediately sends the secretary and the guidance counselor to the edge of the parking lot with the front office emergency evacuation kit and directs them to set up the school command post.

Before leaving the office, the secretary, who is in charge of the front office emergency evacuation kit, quickly puts the day’s absentee list, the visitor sign-in sheet, the early dismissal sign-out sheet and the school cellular phone in the emergency evacuation kit. Copies of the school safety plan, as well as copies of student and staff emergency medical records, are already kept in the emergency evacuation kits.

As part of its school safety plan, the school safety committee keeps two emergency evacuation kits at the school, one in the front office, and the second in a storage building in the rear of the campus. Both kits are oversized, sturdy plastic containers with a handle and wheels so they can be quickly and easily moved. Both kits also contain numerous emergency-related items and equipment the school crisis response team members will use during the emergency.

The school crisis response team members assigned to triage cautiously go to the cafeteria to offer first aid to the victims. As they arrive they see several of the teachers who were in the cafeteria at the time of the explosion moving uninjured students and walking wounded out of the cafeteria. The team members begin conducting triage in a safe area outside of the cafeteria so injuries can be assessed. The team members make sure to begin the triage process in an area where evacuated students cannot see the triage area from their evacuation areas.

Triage forms provided in the backpacks, as well as a clipboard, pens, permanent markers and identification bracelets, also allow team members to begin the process of identifying the injured in the triage area. This information will be taken to the school command post and team members will determine if any of the injured students or teachers have medical conditions that will require special medical attention.

A cafeteria worker who was in the kitchen at the time of the explosion sustained severe injuries, including a severely bleeding wound to his leg and severe burns to his back. However, medical supplies in their individual emergency backpack trauma kits allow the triage team members immediately to address the severe injuries until paramedics arrive.

Teachers who were in their classrooms at the time of the explosion grab their classroom emergency backpacks and begin evacuating their students to their predetermined emergency evacuation areas outside. Two hundred fourth and fifth graders begin to be evacuated from the building. As a result of their training, classroom teachers know part of their responsibility is to account accurately for all of their students once outside the building.

Their classroom emergency backpacks allow them quickly to grab their school safety plan, their student roster, their accountability forms, a first aid kit, identification bracelets, pens, paper and a clipboard all at once, and then conduct their accountability procedures once they get to the evacuation areas.

As the fire department and paramedics arrive on the scene, the school crisis response team members assigned to triage are able to brief the paramedics on the extent of the injuries and begin the process of identifying the injured students, parents and staff. Team members use their triage forms to collect names and other identifying information about the victims. They also attach identification bracelets to the injured. They are able to identify all of the injured except one of the parents, who was knocked unconscious by the explosion. The team members cannot find any identification on him.

School crisis response team members also begin working with the paramedics to determine where the injured are going to be taken for treatment. As the victims are loaded into the ambulances the paramedics tell the team members to which hospital the victims are going to be taken. The team members note this information on their triage forms. The runners will take this information back to the school command post.

the school command post, runners have brought the list of injured on triage forms, the list of missing on accountability forms and the list of parents and family members on the family reunification forms. Here, the secretary and counselor are busily determining if any of the injured listed on the triage forms have any special medical conditions that paramedics and emergency room doctors should know about.

secretary determines one of the injured students is asthmatic and gives a copy of the student’s emergency medical records to a runner. The secretary also checks the visitor sign-in sheet in an attempt to identify the unconscious parent. Since all other parents in the cafeteria have been accounted for by the team members, she is able to determine the name of the unconscious parent.

Several local reporters and news crews have also arrived at the school. The principal and the district public information officer confer with the fire chief and they jointly decide to address the reporters and update them on what has happened, including giving them figures on the number of injured and which hospital the injured were taken to. They also announce that school will be canceled for the next two days until they can assess the physical damage to the school building.

Eventually, all of the injured are taken to the local hospital and treated for their injuries, and all of the remaining students, staff and parents are accounted for. The fire chief confirms that a leaking gas pipe in a kitchen stove caused the explosion.

The explosion with its resulting injuries was a true test of the school crisis response team’s ability to deal effectively with a crisis. Because of their training, all of the school staff understood they had to account for everyone at the school, while working within the parameters set up by the emergency response agencies.

The school’s numerous emergency kits and emergency backpacks provided the school staff and the school crisis response team members with the tools to complete this task and provide the necessary information quickly and accurately to emergency responders, the incident commander, anxious parents and the media.

Note: Although the article scenario is fictional, it is based on one of more than 60 two-, three- and four-day school crisis response team trainings that Safe Schools America, Inc., has conducted. For information on conducting crisis response trainings for your school district, contact SSA at .

James A. Watson is a lawyer in Atlanta, Ga., and is vice-president of Safe Schools America, Inc., a school safety consulting company that has been providing crisis response training, school safety planning and other school safety-related consulting services to schools throughout the eastern United States since 1992. You can contact SSA at .

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