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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has introduced a planning process to help schools develop procedures to respond to all types of disasters, including school violence.

Children are not supposed to kill other children, and schools are supposed to be safe havens. The reality is that most schools are very safe places-- but for those unthinkable instances when kids do kill or plan to kill, schools need to have a plan to respond.

Now educators can get help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which  introduced guidelines to help schools develop procedures to respond to all types of disasters, including school violence.

FEMA Offers School Emergency Planning

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) presented guidelines for schools to develop their own school emergency plans.

The multipart guidelines, "School Emergency Planning Concepts," include six primary steps in creating an emergency plan.

1. Institute a planning process-- Recruit support from the community, identify planning issues, recommend strategies for addressing those issues and assign a committee to develop a plan.

2. Identify hazards -- In addition to obtaining or drawing a map of the school and school grounds, identify potential hazards along building evacuation routes.

3. Train and drill -- Develop procedures for classroom and school drills, determine ways of evacuating the building, and practice the drills to determine their effectiveness.

4. Plan for immediate response and care -- Anticipate first-hour priorities, assign roles and responsibilities, coordinate the plan with the school district and local emergency officials, and educate parents on the school response plan and their role in an emergency.

5. Develop a communications plan -- Develop call lists, determine on-site and off-site communication needs, and develop reporting procedures to convey emergency information to parents and the media; submit copies of the plan to school district and local emergency response offices.

6. Develop a post-disaster shelter plan -- Develop a list of post-emergency care and shelter planning assumptions.

"There are certain types of procedures for any emergency," Peggy Stahl, chief of FEMA's Outreach Branch and Preparedness, Training, and Exercises Directorate, told Education World. Those procedures are outlined in "School Emergency Planning Concept," which Stahl presented last week at a Department of Education conference in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Stahl told those attending the conference that there is a new awareness in schools and communities regarding the importance of emergency preparedness. "And it is not only natural disasters that are providing the wake-up call but also the far too numerous tragic incidents of school violence," she said. "The message has been clear that school crisis response support programs are needed, [programs that] include a 'FEMA-type' response with more federal assistance for the school and community when there is an incident of violence."

FEMA's school emergency plan is a multistep program that focuses on several aspects of emergency response, including planning, practicing evacuation drills, and setting up ways to handle both on-site and off-site communications. (See sidebar.)

In addition, FEMA offers a course, The Multi-Hazard Safety Program for Schools.


The importance of having a plan was emphasized when the Jefferson County sheriff's office released its graphic crime report about the Columbine High School massacre. The report detailed how Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a 16-minute murderous rampage, killing 13 and injuring 21.

The report captures the panic and horror in the school's hallways, much of it recorded on school video cameras, as students and teachers fled the building while pipe bombs exploded and the gunmen shot at them. The report also explains how more than three hours went by before paramedics reached teacher Dave Sanders, who bled to death while students tried to help him.

Within 11 minutes from when the shootings began, six deputy sheriffs had arrived outside the school, and for the next six and a half minutes, 10 more people were killed and 12 others were wounded in the school library. The report describes how confusion about the school's layout and reports about a third gunman on the roof hindered the SWAT team's response.


Long before the Columbine tragedy, Congress was looking at ways to curb school violence. In 1994, Congress passed the Gun-Free Schools Act, which requires that each state receiving federal funds under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act must enact a state law that requires all school districts to expel from school for least one year any student found bringing a gun to school.

According to a National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) statistics survey, Violence and Discipline Problems in U.S. Public Schools: 1996-97, one out of ten schools reported incidents at school of serious violent crimes, such as rape or sexual battery, suicide, physical attacks or fights with weapons, or robbery. The NCES study also found that an estimated 6,093 students were expelled [of the 46 million public school students] for bringing a firearm to school during the 1996-97 school year.

The Columbine shootings triggered the release of $70 million by the Justice Department to fund an additional 600 police officers in schools in 336 communities across the nation. Those funds provided $17 million through a school-based initiative to help strengthen partnerships between local law enforcement officials and schools.


Research has found that large schools report more serious crimes than do small schools. Yet in 1997, almost half of the nation's high school students attended schools with enrollments of more than 1,500. About 75 percent of urban high school students attended schools of that size.

Among schools with enrollments of 1,000 or more, one-third reported at least one serious violent crime, compared with less than one-tenth of schools with fewer than 1,000 students. City schools also were twice as likely to report serious violent crime compared with rural and schools in towns; however, there was not much difference in the amount of serious crimes in schools located in urban fringe areas, according to the NCES Annual Report on School Safety -- 1998. See a more recent version of this report.

Diane Weaver Dunne
Education World®
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Updated 11/05/2012