Whatever your job title within the walls of the school, if you are in charge of planning and implementing your severe weather plan, you are the emergency manager for your school. That responsibility means identifying multiple hazards that might threaten your school’s operations and the safety of your students, staff, and visitors. There can be literally dozens of them in varying degrees based on the frequency of the event, the geographical area that might be involved, the number of people at risk, the amount of lead time you have to prepare and react, etc., which is why doing a risk assessment is so important. You can focus resources for the one that is likely to give you the most problems. There is no part of the United States that can be identified as immune to severe weather, so this risk needs to be on everyone’s list of hazards!
It doesn’t matter the size of the school. It could have 2,500 students, or as little as 50. Both are equally vulnerable to severe weather. While everything else can be managed on a day to day basis, severe weather is something that can drastically change the way your school-day unfolds. From communicating with parents on how you will care for their children to actually running practice drills, your pre-planning will determine how you act when risks threaten your school, its staff, students, and visitors. When dangerous weather is heading directly to your school, are you prepared?
The complicating factor for preparing for severe weather is the relatively short warning time that you have to implement a severe weather plan. While the lead time being provided by the National Weather Service for tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings is increasing every year, it can still be very short when you have to make a decision whether or not to move hundreds of people from vulnerable areas of a building into places of refuge.
Because of these concerns, you must make sure that you not only have a plan but that you test it on a regular basis. The key element of maintaining an educated staff is to first teach, then, “train, Train, TRAIN!” Individuals MUST have an understanding of the need for and complicating factors of implementing a severe weather plan effectively. Moving a large number of people within a school’s property takes time even under the best of circumstances; doing it under the stressful conditions associated with a tornado warning can be a disaster in and of itself if the school is not prepared.
One of the ways to insure your school is becoming better prepared is to participate the National Weather Service (NWS) program called StormReady (www.stormready.noaa.gov). While part of its focus is to better prepare cities and counties to better protect their citizens for a weather disaster, the same actions can be taken by schools and school systems. By having plans on how to monitor severe weather, how to be notified of NWS warnings, having written procedures to follow, identifying sheltering locations, and having in place the notification procedures to staff, teachers and students, your facility will not only be better prepared. It will also be eligible to receive recognition from the NWS as being a StormReady Supporter. And that can have an impact on parents’ willingness to place their students into YOUR hands instead of putting them under the care of a school that has not achieved that recognition. Contact the Warnings Coordination Meteorologist at your local NWS office. Find that office by logging onto www.weather.gov.
Schools all have insurance to protect them from various liabilities. One of the best insurances you can have is a commercial weather risk service offered by one of the nation’s many private weather companies. One company that provides affordable services is WeatherCall with its product WeatherCall for Schools which provides a virtual protective zone around a school to alert them to NWS severe weather warnings, as well as nearby lightning strikes in simple phone calls, emails and graphics. A weather tool is no good if it takes too long to make good decisions.
Likewise a weather plan is useless if it is too complicated to be enacted quickly. Getting information that a severe weather event is imminent for your school is vital in keeping those inside safe. Delay and confusion can result in deaths and potential lawsuits. Whatever you decide for your severe weather plan, do it NOW!