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Step 2: Understand the Situation

In Step 2, the planning team identifies possible threats and hazards, and assesses the risk and vulnerabilities posed by those threats and hazards.

Effective school planning depends on a consistent analysis and comparison of the threats and hazards a particular school faces. Typically, this is performed through a threat and hazard identification and risk assessment process that collects information about threats and hazards, and assigns values to risk for the purposes of deciding which threats or hazards the plan should prioritize and subsequently address.

Identify Threats and Hazards

The planning team first needs to understand the threats and hazards faced by the school and the surrounding community.

The planning team can draw upon a wealth of existing information to identify the range of threats and hazards that may be faced by the school. First, the planning team members should share their own knowledge of threats and hazards the school and surrounding community have faced in the past or may face in the future. The planning team should then reach out to local, state, and federal agencies for data about historical threats and hazards faced by the surrounding community. Local and county agencies that have a knowledge of threats and hazards include, but are not limited to the following: emergency management offices, fire and police departments, as well as local organizations and community groups (e.g., local chapter of the American Red Cross, Community Emergency Response Team), utilities, and other businesses that can provide helpful information.

Assess the Risk Posed by the Identified Threats and Hazards

Once the initial threats and hazards have been identified through the process described in the previous section, the planning team should select suitable assessment tools to evaluate the risk posed by the identified threats and hazards. Evaluating risk entails understanding the probability that the specific threat or hazard will occur; the effects it will likely have, including the severity of the impact; the time the school will have to warn students and staff about the threat or hazard; and how long it may last. The local and county emergency management staff should be able to provide information on some of the risks posed by threats and hazards common to the school and surrounding community. This enables the planning team to focus its assessment efforts on threats and hazards unique to the school community, as well as on the particular vulnerabilities of the building and its occupants.

“Vulnerabilities” refers to the characteristics of the school (e.g., structure, equipment, information technology or electrical systems, grounds, surrounding area) that could make it more susceptible to the identified threats and hazards. Assessing risk and vulnerability enables the planning team to focus its efforts on prioritized threats and hazards.

Assessments

Assessments will be used not only to develop the initial plan, but also to inform updates and revisions to the plan on an ongoing basis. The following provides more information about some of the most essential assessments the planning team should undertake.

Type of Assessment Description Purpose and Results
Site Assessment A site assessment examines the safety, accessibility, and emergency preparedness of the school’s buildings and grounds. This assessment includes, but is not limited to the following: a review of building access and egress control measures, visibility around the exterior of the building, structural integrity of the building, compliance with applicable architectural standards for individuals with disabilities and others with functional and access needs, and emergency vehicle access.
  • Increased understanding of the potential impact of threats and hazards on the school buildings and grounds.
  • Increased understanding of risk and vulnerabilities of the school buildings and grounds when developing the plan.
  • Knowledge of which facilities are physically accessible to students, staff, parents, volunteer workers, and emergency response personnel with disabilities and can be used in compliance with the law.
Culture and Climate Assessment In schools with positive climates, students are more likely to feel connected to adults and their peers. This fosters a nurturing environment where students are more likely to succeed, feel safe, and report threats. A school culture and climate assessment evaluates student and staff connectedness to the school and problem behaviors. For example, this assessment may reveal a high number of bullying incidents, indicating a need to implement an anti-bullying program. If a student survey is used to assess culture and climate, student privacy must be protected. A range of school personnel can assist in the assessment of culture and school climate, including school counselors and mental health staff.
  • Knowledge of students’ and staff members’ perceptions of their safety.
  • Knowledge of problem behaviors that need to be addressed to improve school climate.
School Threat Assessment A school threat assessment analyzes communication and behaviors to determine whether or not a student, staff, or other person may pose a threat. These assessments must be based on fact, must comply with applicable privacy, civil rights, and other applicable laws, and are often conducted by multidisciplinary threat assessment teams. While a planning team may include the creation of a threat assessment team in its plan, the assessment team is a separate entity from the planning team and meets on its own regular schedule.
  • Students, staff, or other persons who may pose a threat are identified before a threat develops into an incident and are referred for services, if appropriate.
Capacity Assessment The planning team needs to know what resources will be at its disposal. A capacity assessment examines the capabilities of students and staff as well as the services and material resources of community partners. This assessment is used to identify people in the building with applicable skills (e.g., first aid certification, search and rescue training, counseling and mental health expertise, ability to assist individuals with disabilities and others with access and functional needs). Equipment and supplies should also be inventoried. The inventory should include an evaluation of equipment and supplies uniquely for individuals with disabilities, such as evacuation chairs, the availability of sign language interpreters and technology used for effective communication, accessible transportation, and consumable medical supplies and durable medical equipment that may be necessary during a shelter-in-place or evacuation.
  • An increased understanding of the resources available.
  • Information about staff capabilities will help planners assign roles and responsibilities in the plan.

After conducting these assessments, the planning team should consolidate all of the information it has obtained into a format that is usable for comparing the risks posed by the identified threats and hazards. This information will then be used to assess and compare the threats and hazards and their likely consequences. This is referred to as a “risk and vulnerability assessment.” One effective method for organizing information is to create a table with a range of information about each possible threat and hazard, including any new threats or hazards identified through the assessment process. The table should include

  • Probability

    or frequency of occurrence (i.e., how often a threat or hazard may occur);

  • Magnitude

    (i.e., the extent of expected damage);

  • Time

    available to warn staff, students, and visitors;

  • Duration

    (i.e., for how long the hazard or threat will be occurring); and

  • Follow-on

    and cascading effects of threat or hazard.

Prioritize Threats and Hazards

Next, the planning team should use the information it has organized to compare and prioritize risks posed by threats and hazards. This will allow the team to decide which threats or hazards it will directly address in the plan. The team must consider multiple factors when developing an indicator of risk to the institution. One option is a mathematical approach, which assigns index numbers (e.g., a 1-to-4, 1-to-5, or 1-to-10 scale) for different categories of information used in the ranking scheme. Using this approach, the planning team will categorize threats and hazards as posing a relatively high, medium, or low risk. Use the Risk Assessment Worksheet to compare and prioritize threats and hazards.

Sample Risk Assessment Worksheet

Hazard Probability Magnitude Warning Duration Risk Priority
Fire

4. Highly Likely
3. Likely
2. Possible
1. Unlikely

4. Catastrophic
3. Critical
2. Limited
1. Negligible

4. Minimal
3. 6-12 hrs.
2. 12-24 hrs.
1. 24+ hrs.

4. 12+ hrs.
3. 6-12 hrs.
2. 3-6 hrs.
1. <3 Hours

High
Medium
Low

Hazmat Spill Outside the School

4. Highly Likely
3. Likely
2. Possible
1.Unlikely

4. Catastrophic
3. Critical
2. Limited
1. Negligible

4. Minimal
3. 6-12 hrs.
2. 12-24 hrs.
1. 24+ hrs.

4. 12+ hrs.
3. 6-12 hrs.
2. 3-6 hrs.
1. <3 Hours

High
Medium
Low

Step 2 Outcome

After completing Step 2, the planning team has a prioritized (high, medium, or low risk) list of threats and hazards based on the results of the risk assessment.