There are many situations which demand the response of a crisis team to support students and school staff members, but many schools are unprepared.
A crisis team is a a group of individuals representing the school, school district, community, and professionals from the local police department, fire department, and mental health agency. Their goal is to work together to respond to the physical and emotional needs of the students and staff in a time of crisis and restore trust and safety for them in the school environment. Having that crisis team in place with a planned response can assure that their reaction to a crisis is not panic, but instead a planned directive to use all of the skills and resources of the team members.
The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) identifies four categories of school crisis events to which a crisis team may need to respond:
1. A death of a staff member, student, or member of the community which affects the school population
2. An environmental crisis such as a fire, flood, or tornado
3. Threat to the physical safety of the students, such as a school bus accident or school shooting
4. Threat to students’ emotional well-being, such as a repeated bomb threat or hate-crime graffiti
How Should a Crisis Team Be Structured?
Formation of a team may follow the guidelines set forth in “A Model for School-Based Crisis Preparedness and Response” at ovc.gov. Recommended team leaders include counseling coordinator, communication coordinator, media coordinator, staff notification coordinator, and crowd management coordinator. Training for each leader is important so that their responsibility, and the responsibilities of each team leader, is understood and recognized.
What Does a Crisis Team Do?
The team develops a procedure to follow in the event of a crisis. They are ready to help the students by designating rooms in the school where counselors are available to provide immediate support to individual students or student groups. Guiding parents and school personnel through the sometimes confusing paths to medical and mental health services, as well as law enforcement and legal channels, is an important role of the crisis team. Practical steps, such as postponing scheduled testing, providing alternate school schedules, or providing classroom discussion time about the traumatic event, are put into place by the crisis team members who are trained to recognize the need for these changes.
A well-organized school crisis team with a plan in place for handling a traumatic event allows the support and services students and school staff need to be available for them. Each crisis has special needs and demands specific actions, but a flexible plan can be quickly adapted for those unique situations.
The safety and well-being of children is as important as anything they learn in school. Putting a school crisis team in place guarantees that even in the face of a terrifying situation, the school will continue to be a safe place for its students.