No one can predict what a critical incident might be, so it's important to plan ahead and ensure you know exactly what should happen, who to contact and when. No guidance can ever cover every type of emergency a school may face but it is possible to reduce the impact of an incident if one does occur.
The actions taken in the first few hours after an incident could make a huge difference to how effectively one is handled.
If your school doesn't already have an emergency plan it can be a daunting task to get one in place. Here are some steps you can take to get started:
Contact your Local Authority
All local authorities will have emergency plans - or critical incident plans/civil contingency plans. They may well involve your school already but before you can make your own school plan, you need to know how it fits in to your local authorities plan.
You may also find that your local authority (or local Diocese if you are a Church of England or Roman Catholic school) has guidance available for schools in preparing an emergency plan.
Talk to others involved
It may not just be your school that is involved in any critical incident, it's important to speak to others that may respond to your incident. This could include things like agreed responses, response-times, roles and responsibilities.
Talk to your local emergency services - the police who patrol your community, local fire and ambulance stations, GPs and so on.
Work out your own plan
Think about the main issues you'll need to address should an incident occur. Think about:
- What could go wrong?
- How likely is it?
- How can you reduce the chance that it will?
- Who should be assigned roles (e.g. calming frightened children, handling the media)?
It's important to involve the staff team when creating and implementing your plan, here are some actions that may help:
- Recognise that a climate of support and trust among staff will strengthen the school's response at a time of crisis
- Devote a staff meeting or part of a staff-development session to the plan. This should happen in the initial stages and again once the plan is complete. Consider the need for staff to be trained in bereavement counseling.
- Identify key school staff. Experience has shown that identifying a group of teachers prepared to assume emergency roles and assist in leading the response is particularly valuable
- Recognise the importance of the need for support and of identifying ways of obtaining it. In addition to assistance from their LEAs (where applicable), schools will need to develop links with other agencies (for example the fire brigade)
- You could also think of ways in which the national curriculum provides learning experiences for pupils about loss, change and bereavement
Once the plan is operational it is advisable to nominate a member of staff to regularly review and update its details.
To facilitate quick and effective action in the event of an incident, the following measures are recommended:
1. At school
- Once the plan has been drawn up, consider how and where it will be kept and who should have access to details of the plan and of emergency contact information.
- Nominated administrative staff should be able to access personnel files on the school computer system.
Up to date lists of contact telephone numbers and addresses should be held centrally, both on computer and in readily accessible folders. These may include contact details of members of staff who have specific functions within the plan, as well as of pupils' parents.
2. At home
- An incident may happen out of school hours. It is good practice for the head teacher (together with a nominated person or persons) to have a copy of the most up to date version of the school emergency-management plan and home telephone list at home.
- Nominate a person (either a governor or member of staff) who can be called upon to assist in responding to the media.
- Instruct all other staff not to give interviews or comment on any written or printed material. Make it clear that no such material should be handed out to the media.
- Make sure that staff know that in the early stages of an incident (until the arrival of the LEA's press and PR support), they should direct any media requests to the head teacher or their nominee.