A Qualitative Case Study of School Crisis Management Preparation, Training and Readiness in Response to any Crisis in a High School
This case study paper presents the introductory chapter of a study entitled, “Qualitative Case Study of School Crisis Management Preparation, Training and Readiness in Response to any Crisis in High School”. The chapter analyzes some of the common crises that schools can face including bomb threats, fires, severe weather, bullying, and drug abuse. It also presents the problem background and problem statement.
Introduction to the Problem
A crisis can occur before, after, or even during school and on- or off-school campuses at any time. It is not likely that any school can avoid the need to respond to a significant crisis. Crises vary in scope and intensity from events that affect one student to events that affect the whole community in a direct or indirect manner. Each school must put in place measures that will help to prevent a crisis from adversely affecting the operations of the school. Already there are models that help to prevent crises from affecting the school adversely or minimize the possible impact of such disasters (Philpott & Serluco, 2009; Lionetti & Christner, 2010).
Schools and campuses must put in place mechanisms that help to prevent and mitigate all potential vulnerabilities and hazards that students and staff face when they are within the school system. This could be done through preparedness by collaborating with the community and all stakeholders in anticipation that an identified hazard or emergency will occur (Finnis & Becker, 2007). In addition, schools are also expected to respond to vulnerabilities and hazards whenever they occur in order to contain them effectively and resolve the emergency from their school system (Lebow, 2007). In the case where an emergency or crisis happens, the school is also expected to have recovery systems which include helping the affected students or staff to heal and restore a safe and healthy learning environment. The nature of the crisis will define the response mechanisms that the school uses (Phillips & Parker, 2008).
School teachers and administrators, as well as school support staff, are all required to learn how to prevent and mitigate. The aim specifically is to reduce the risks that are associated with any crisis that may occur in school (Drennan & McConnell, 2007). It also helps to improve the school community’s perception of what constitutes a crisis as well as prepare for the crisis in a practical and balanced way (Sasmita & Mazumdar, 2010). Teacher training is built around awareness and preparedness through preparation, communication, and education. School administrators and teachers are taught common sense to understand their unique culture and climate with a view of dealing with any crisis within the school (Phelan, 2011).
Furthermore, school administrators and teachers are always asked about the level of their preparedness to deal with a crisis. The training programs available to teachers focus on practical risk-reduction, such as fire drills and effective communication, that can provide a psychologically secure and prepared environment to handle a crisis (Bennett, 2010). Teachers are also trained on how to keep their schools safe through identification of liabilities and pitfalls in emergency and security plans. They also train in the execution of practical and cost-effective strategies in case of any threats of security alerts (Reeves & Kanan, 2010). In addition, they also learn techniques to handle bullies or violent students through identification of possible causes of violence such as drug abuse or fear of examinations. Assessment and communication of security issues in school is also an area that school administrators and teachers are expected to learn so that they can engage parents and media in an effective way (Gower, 2013).
The school administration and teacher-learning focuses on important skills needed in the management of a crisis. For instance, improving the climate and culture of the school through activities, conflict resolution, identifying the impact of cultural and social settings on student behaviors, self-control and rational behaviors among students, teaching of problem-solving techniques, proper communication with students and parents, and proper use of resources to manage crises are among the skills taught (Dunlap, 2012). Many school administrators and teachers have access to professionally-designed training programs, such as PREPaRE, to help them provide leadership consultation and evidence-based approaches to preventing and responding to school crises. These resources aim at strengthening the crisis management plans and safety during a crisis. Parents also provide financial resources to help schools to install safety tools and to also facilitate training activities for teachers and other security stakeholders (Van Meter & Schmidlin, 2013).
Student Culture and Climate
Crises in schools and campuses can be manifested in many ways (Boon & Brown, 2011). One of the traditional ways is the student culture and climate that makes some students naturally adopt unacceptable behaviors such as bullying, fighting, or drug abuse. According to Fagel (2013), a school’s culture and climate can be a source of the crisis to the school as many students are more likely to suffer as an outcome of their environmental conditions (Brock & Nickerson, 2011). Bullying and drug abuse are crises especially when they cause other students to withdraw from learning activities, perform poorly in class, or develop low self-esteem (Moore & Chandra, 2012). As a result, the school management needs to put in place mechanisms that monitor these kinds of behaviors in schools to ensure that they do not escalate to a level where the school can no longer control students’ behaviors (Lovisa, 2008).
Bomb threats are a common occurrence in American schools. However, a small number account for actual bombs as most of the threats are hoaxes from people with the ill intention of causing confusion at the school (Sandoval, 2013). Bomb threats should be treated seriously until the relevant authorities are called to verify the threat (Van Wart & Kapucu, 2011). A bomb threat is mostly a verbal threat from a school member or any other person to detonate an incendiary device or explosive with the motive of causing injuries or damaging property. The school management should put in place mechanisms to report and handle bomb threats in order to avoid exacerbating the confusion, which can result in more injuries (Kingshott & McKenzie, 2013).
Fires in schools are the most common crises in American schools. American fire departments respond to an average of 5,000 fires each year (Boin & McConnell, 2007). The fires cause harm to students and staff in addition to the loss of property worth millions of dollars. More than half of reported fires are intentionally caused by people who are unhappy with school management or with something else at the school (Johnston & Paton, 2012). A number of laws have been legislated at the state and national levels to prevent the incidences of fire. For instance, fire drills are held once a month during the school session depending on local weather conditions (Sinclair & Paton, 2012). Schools are also expected to have fire exits that are functional. School management inspects the exits daily to ensure that they are properly functioning. Students must learn how to recognize and respond to fire alarms correctly and this is usually demonstrated during the fire drill (Inglesby, 2011). Other precautions include familiarity with the fire protection system, maps to indicate two way exits, special needs students given assistance during fire drills, and ensuring the proper issue of commands and orders during a fire incident to avoid stampede and injuries, among others. (Whitman & Green, 2013).
Most school-based teacher-training programs that focus on preventing crises from occurring address general threats or crises that are likely to occur. However, each crisis presents a different spectrum of challenges that must be addressed in accordance with their own characteristics. The training and preparedness for a crisis needs to reflect the nature of the crisis, for instance, floods or bomb threats. This requires resources such as training facilities and financial resources to hire trainers. Most schools cannot afford these and end up having a general program dubbed crisis management. Thus, there is a need to have specific training programs that address each of the crises that a school is likely to face (Couvillion, Peterson & Ryan, 2012).
Schools are exposed to many emergency crises that can lead to loss of life, injuries, or damage to property. Teachers and school administrators are expected to develop programs and plans that can help to prevent or respond to a crisis whenever it occurs. However, because of the many crises that could occur and limited resources, teachers and administrators may not be able to adequately have measures to prevent them. The provision of such resources and tools is dependent on several factors such as support from parents and education stakeholders. The understanding of a general approach to mitigating or preventing a crisis from occurring will help to keep students and staff secure (Bennett, 2010).
The aim of the literature review is to investigate the findings of other researchers with regard to the topic of study. In this case, the literature review will focus on the findings of researchers on the subject of managing school crisis and response procedures as well as the available training techniques and resources for people charged with the responsibility of responding to any crisis. Nevertheless, there are various challenges when carrying out literature review on a subject of this nature (Lewis, 2006).
The first challenge is the unpredictability and infrequency of school crises that makes it difficult to measure the effectiveness of the mechanisms that are proposed in the literature (Kendall, 2000). Thus, it is difficult to do a systematic study. Whereas there is a characteristic concurrence in the literature with regards to the essential steps that responders should take in preparing and responding to any school crisis, little research is available to ascertain the recommended steps (Fagel, 2013).
Moreover, few documented efforts exist to carefully develop and evaluate a conclusive crisis-training program in schools. Ultimately, this implies that any crisis and subsequent response mechanisms are innately very unique and complex in nature, thus complex in their analysis (Tucker & Codding, 2003). For instance, the process of determining the control approach for particular variables, interpretation of causal linkages, and determination of training effectiveness can be problematic to researchers.
This literature review will be undertaken in steps. The first step will involve evaluating the proposed and researched thinking on the current mechanisms in school crisis management and examine the present suggestions and approaches of preparing and intervening in school crises. The second step provides a synopsis on the present evidence on school crisis management effectiveness. The last step explores strategies for learning and preparing for a crisis in schools, including the mechanisms for developing and evaluating the recommended training approaches for teachers and staff. It will present specific analyses of the preparation and intervention training strategies for those who work in the education sector.
Recently, schools across the world have increasingly experienced situations that require immediate response. These incidents usually have a negative impact on the school community and its environs. The crisis events that schools have faced are either natural or originating from human actions. Natural crisis events include floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes. Human originated crises include fires, fighting, and bullying, among others. Whenever such incidents occur, school administration is mandated to prevent and manage them, especially when school children are involved. Thus, societal expectation implies that teachers and other staff in schools must be prepared to handle any crisis situation that may occur. The severity and frequency of some particular crises have skyrocketed in some areas. For example, cases of fires in schools in America increased by 20% between 1990 and 2000 (United States Department of Education, 2003).
Whereas survivors of school crises need to be profiled (don’t understand), it is evident that some retain long-term effects from a crisis. Equally, trauma and bereavement among survivors are common and can affect their normal functions in the society. Dyregov et al (1999) found in their study that 25% of school students who experienced a crisis situation remain highly traumatized nine months after the incident. Their study identified remarkable evidence between genders and level of trauma.
Thus, there is a critical need for school administration and teachers to be empowered to prevent the occurrence of crises and be able to effectively manage them whenever they may occur (Paton, 1992).The majority of school administrators and teachers do not have the necessary training to intervene in a crisis situation. Many of them are not able to recognize and make effective decisions when they are stressed and do not have sufficient information, resources, and time.
Dyregov et al (1999) observed that only few schools are prepared to prevent or manage a crisis. Furthermore, little emphasis is placed on prevention, which is the most important part of crisis management. It is fundamental to identify the effective elements in the crisis management process in schools. The present practice is solely based on the clinical judgment of the probable actions to be undertaken in the event of a crisis. This does not however imply that clinical judgment should not be valued. Nevertheless, it should never be the replacement for rigorous and balanced research to evaluate the outcomes of crisis management in schools. This should be carried out from teachers in the school to the whole school community (Callahan, 1998).
Currently, more scholars have shown interest in the topic of school crisis management and training. However, they have continued to face a number of significant challenges. The first is the difficulty of predicting the nature of the crisis. The second is the ethical constraints that such research faces. It is also difficult to adequately measure the socio-emotional impact and the recovery in people who are affected or involved in the management of a crisis with validity and reliability. Those involved in the management and recovery of a crisis are also not readily willing to accept the place of research in helping them to deal with future crises (Flannery & Everly, 2000).
Empirical studies in school crisis management use different models to understand the management of a crisis. The most-widely used is the ‘prevention, preparation, response, and recovery’ model. It is used to categorize research studies. Some authors prefer the use of the term ‘mitigation to prevention’. This model was originated by Caplan (1964), who identified three stages of crisis intervention: the primary, secondary, and tertiary intervention. The primary intervention is where measures are taken, including teacher training, to prevent the crisis from occurring. The secondary intervention is taken after the crisis and is aimed at reducing the impact of the crisis. At the tertiary stage, there is long-term follow-up with the survivors of the crisis.
The review of journals over a period of 31 years by Allen, Marston and Lamb (2001) sought to determine the kinds of articles published on crisis-related topics. The limitation of this study was that it drew its sources from a narrow list of journals, dissertations, and published books. The authors included topic coding on their list. They considered grief and death, suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder, aggression/violence, and school phobia. They also included items such as dealing with media after natural disasters, crisis planning and crisis team development, drugs, critical illness, incidents involving shootings and bomb threats, as well as war. 4% of the published works in psychology journals dealt with the subject of crisis management in a span of 31 years. The inclusion criterion was broad but did not adequately define a crisis. Approximately 0.5% of the articles explicitly dealt with research on this topic. As such, this translates to one research article per year and the authors concluded that published works in crisis management and training largely lie towards anecdotal and best practices instead of researched findings. This study will thus contribute to the research material available for this topic.
Theoretical Background and Major Theorists
Schools that have effective resources in place and well trained staff are in a better position to prevent or manage a crisis situation than those that lack the resources. The provision of the necessary resources is the mandate of parents and school administration to ensure that schools are equipped to deal with any form of crisis (Canterbury & Yule, 1999).
Erich Lindemann and Gerald Caplan Crisis Theory
Erich Lindermann, after helping survivors of the fire tragedy at Coconut Grove in Boston (493 people perished with many survivors), theorized that clergy and community members play a critical role to help people that are affected by a crisis situation through mourning. As such, survivors are able to prevent psychological difficulties in their later lives. Gerald Caplan formulated the essence of life crises in understanding adult psychopathology. He stated,
“An examination of the history of psychiatric patients shows that, during certain of these crisis periods, the individual seems to have dealt with his problems in a maladjusted manner and to have emerged less healthy than he had been before the crisis” (Caplan 1964, p. 35).
According to the two theorists, crisis prevention should be based on the developmental transitions that are likely to end up into a full-blown crisis. The crisis theory identifies different stages of crisis development. It notes that both personal and social resources work to determine the impact that a crisis will finally have on a person or a community. The theory posits that early intervention can promote positive growth and reduce the possibilities of adverse effects on the person or community. Since crises can be identified or predicted before they occur, it is necessary that the relevant people are prepared and trained to handle them. It will help in managing any occurrence of the crisis (Slaikeu, 1990).
Albert Bandura Self-efficacy Theory
Albert Bandura formulated the self-efficacy theory from social cognitive theory. Bandura noted that a person’s beliefs can influence their perception insofar as their ability to attain certain goals is concerned. It is the belief that certain goals can be attained if performed in a certain manner, and so is based on the ability to master a situation and produce positive impact (Bandura, 1977).
Staples et al (1997) noted that the self-efficacy theory identifies four main sources of information when performing self-efficacy judgments. The first is performance accomplishments based on the assessment of personal achievements. In this case, previous positive achievements heighten the belief of positive expectations whereas negative achievements lower the expectations. The second is the vicarious experience that is derived from observing other people successfully perform activities. It is the same as modeling and brings about expectations that improvement of performance can be achieved through learning/training.
The third source is social persuasion that is premised on good leadership that impacts people’s desire to accomplish particular tasks. Social persuasion is mainly hinged on the regular coaching and evaluation of feedback about the progress being made by some people. The last source is the physiological and emotional states, where a person’s state of emotion can influence their self-efficacy judgment concerning particular tasks (Pajares & Schunk, 2001).
Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’
Maslow’s Hierarchy Theory is based on people’s motivation. Maslow noted that people inherently possess a range of motivation systems that are not related to unconscious desires or rewards. Maslow argued that people are likely to desire to attain certain needs in a hierarchical manner. He identified five pyramidal needs ranging from the basic ones such as safety, love, and esteem to self-actualization ones like power and wealth. According to Maslow’s theory, people are naturally motivated to attain basic needs and the desire becomes stronger as the needs continue being unmet. For instance, the more people that stay in an unsafe environment, the more they desire safety. The needs in the Maslow hierarchy are met progressively from the lower ones to the upper ones. Only a few people are able to reach the self-actualization level because society rewards motivation based on love, safety, esteem, and other social needs. Thus, for schools, the need for safety lies in the lower side of the pyramid and schools can only desire to meet other needs when this is provided (Goble, 2004).
Prevention of crises in most cases is considered as steps undertaken to identify and mitigate or reduce the chances that a crisis may occur. Mitigation is intentionally used in the understanding of prevention as it serves to pass across the additional focus on alleviating any possible impact emanating from a crisis. It is normally applicable where it is obvious that the crisis cannot be entirely prevented, such as floods or hurricanes. Many crises that may occur are obvious and can be predicted without regard to the setting. For example, every building faces the possibility of experiencing a fire crisis. As such, conscious steps should be taken to reduce the impacts associated with fire before it happens. Such steps may include removing or reducing combustible materials from the classroom, installing fire extinguishers and smoke detectors in the building, and ultimately developing a practical and comprehensive evacuation procedure. All these activities require people who are trained specifically to handle them, and this is where the element of teacher training comes into place (Bressi, 1999).
Cases of bullying in schools have been reported with nearly 32% of students saying that they were bullied by their fellow students (Phillips & Parker, 2008). 56% report having witnessed someone being bullied (Petersen & Straub, 1992). Because few incidents of bullying are reported, more students are bullied than are recorded. Thus, teachers need to be prepared to handle these cases. School administrators can put in place measures to prevent incidents of bullying such as conducting prevention activities, communication campaigns, and creative arts contests. Teachers can be trained to identify or prevent bullying through the knowledge of school and district bullying policies. They can also be encouraged to discuss bullying cases with colleagues and students, treat students in a humane way, and take immediate actions whenever a case is reported.
In his research, Schonfeld (1993) found that schools can prevent bullying through implementation of school wide programs that involve all stakeholders of the school. This includes administrators, staff, parents, students and the surrounding community. Bullying can turn into a crisis that requires a focused prevention when students no longer feel safe while in the school environment. Teachers should be taught how to evaluate existing bullying situations as well as to identify areas that need immediate attention. The Center of Disease Control provides free assessment tools to determine bullying and victimization, as well as bystander and perpetrator experiences. These tools can be used by teachers during training.
Drug Problems and Fighting
Drug abuse among students turns into a crisis where the school administration or teachers no longer have control over what students do (Sinclair & Paton, 2012). Teachers should be trained to identify the factors that influence students to abuse drugs. Whereas much of the research in the area of drug abuse is anecdotal, prevention of drug abuse has been extensively studied.
Findings in these research studies indicate that students are more likely to respond positively following the identification of a drug abuse case and provide positive support to teachers and others involved in handling the case (Philpott & Serluco, 2009). Many of the drug abusers engage in disruptive activities in schools, such as fighting and bullying. Fighting can turn into a crisis especially when they recur more often and students start to worry about their safety. Training for teachers to prevent fighting and drug abuse should focus on skills to identify and to counsel students who are involved in fighting (Phillips & Parker, 2008).
School culture and climate can be a contributing factor in the incidences of crises in schools. For instance, Thomas & Grimes (2001) reported that in schools where some activities are not seen as crises, it is likely that cases of such incidences are high. According to Boon & Brown (2011), school culture and climate can make some students turn to behaviors that are not acceptable by the school. School culture can promote behaviors such as bullying, drug abuse, and fighting. Equally, in a study by Fagel (2013), it was found that climate can be a source of a crisis since students are likely to suffer as a result of the environmental conditions. An example is where students are only able to access vital resources like water during a rainy season. Students may refuse to walk miles away to access water and force school administration to adjust and provide a solution (Van Meter & Schmidlin, 2013).
The school culture and climate become crises especially where they cause some students to stop their normal learning activities, record poor performance, or develop low esteem or lack of respect to others (Moore & Chandra, 2012). As a result, the school administration must have in place mechanisms that monitor the kind of behaviors in schools to ensure that they do not escalate to a level where the school can no longer control the students’ behaviors (Lovisa, 2008). This can include training of teachers to develop a favorable school culture that will guarantee the safety of everyone in the school.
Teachers are trained to do many things in schools (Whitman & Green, 2013).The main training course that teachers undergo in training colleges is focused on the delivery of the curriculum activities. However, they also need to train on how to prevent or handle a crisis case in their environment (Young, 2002). This will depend on the availability of resources such as finances and training experts to train the teachers. School administration has the responsibility to put in place mechanisms that collate the resources and tools required to train teachers to handle a crisis incident (Reeves & Kanan, 2010). It is also essential to have an expansive scope of training skills among teachers because they cannot predict the kind of crisis that will occur. The training needs to focus on the school and district policies that guide the prevention and recovery process during a crisis (Quinn, 2002; Poland, 1998).
The Importance of Developing a School Crisis Management Program
In many cases, schools have the responsibility and occupy a major role in responding to different types of crises on their premises (Phelan, 2011). The researchers and experts in school crisis management concur that the essence of having a well-trained team of responders in schools cannot be overemphasized in view of the number of fatalities that can result from a small-scale crisis. Thus, schools need support to be able to prepare, intervene, and establish follow-up mechanisms as well as reduce the possible impact of any crisis (Phelan, 2011). The trained team of responders has a duty to take up an active responsibility in the school environment by activating and sustaining the process of keeping the schools alert and prepared for any crisis (Van Wart & Kapucu, 2011).
Thus, the response team in school crisis management has the responsibility of coming up with strategies and plans to prevent a crisis from occurring in the first place. It also responds to any crisis immediately in the case that one occurs. The ultimate purpose is to reduce the negative impacts that a school is likely to face following a crisis (Adamson & Gimpel, 2007). The response team should also evaluate the available preparation strategies with the view of establishing long-term support for crisis management for school administration and students through sustained and direct support (Whitman & Green, 2013). Schools and other student training institutions have many objectives and goals to achieve. However, their two main duties should involve the strategies that allow students to learn in a safe and secure environment. The crisis management team and responders and the overall training programs for staff and school administrations help schools to achieve the second objective of a safe and secure environment (Knox & Roberts, 2005). They help in fostering a secure and safe learning environment in schools. In many cases, they have proven that they can limit the negative impact of a crisis to students, staff, and the school properties in cases where crises have been reported (Van Wart & Kapucu, 2011).
Resiliency in School Crisis Management
The researcher will focus on evaluating crisis preparation and intervention mechanisms in schools. However, the actual response process is performed by individuals in very different approaches depending on the nature of the crisis. Van Meter & Schmidlin (2013) identified a major limitation in an objective discussion of crisis response in schools. It is a failure to put into consideration different factors that come into play when responding to a crisis in schools, as well as the efforts to prevent the crisis. In fact, many reported cases of school crisis do actually impact significantly on students and staff but the resultant stress impact can be devastating to the continued normal activities in schools (Sinclair & Paton, 2012). As such, the ability to initiate learned coping mechanisms is a factor that can play a major role in the success of an intervention plan whenever a crisis happens in schools. The ability to handle the crisis also determines the kind of reaction that students, staff, and responders are going to have in the event a crisis occurs in their premises (Schneider & De Meyer, 2009).
Sasmita & Mazumdar (2010) suggest various ways of examining the influence of resiliency skills in school crisis management. For example, the authors note that some students and staff have developed skills to cope with a crisis that allow them to be less susceptible to the initial stressors linked to a crisis at school. Sandoval (2013) found in a research study that approximately 25% of people are more likely to maintain relative capability to initiate a purposeful reaction following an emergency. This implies that 75% of people are more likely to react in panic following an emergency irrespective of whether they may have prepared for the same crisis prior to its occurrence. Thus, the tendency to react in panic implies that coping mechanisms need to consider this factor; that a good number of potential victims of a crisis will panic when a crisis is declared despite them having been prepared to handle it (Fowler & Kling, 2007).
Following this finding, it can be assumed that a crisis situation either cannot lead to a state of dis-equilibrium for potential victims or that they already had necessary strategies to successfully cope with the crisis, such as overcoming their panic. In agreement with this analysis, Philpott & Serluco (2009) argued that some individuals can accommodate a crisis effectively and get higher levels of post trauma function without the need for professional intervention. To this end, a good number of students and staff in schools should be able to independently cope with a crisis and the ensuing confusion following that event. They should also be able to initiate response mechanisms in a fairly effective manner. Still, other researchers like Phillips & Parker (2008) and Reeves & Kanan (2010) study the ability of an individual to cope with a crisis through consideration of existing environmental factors as the buffers to reactive stress to a crisis.
Moore & Chandra (2012) have identified three main factors that can influence the ability of students to cope with a crisis in school. The first factor is inner resources such as self-esteem and temperament, family, and social resources. A study by Lovisa (2008) established that family can greatly influence the ability of the student to deal with a crisis in different ways. These include; encouraging them to access available support and the ability to share and model emotional experiences to support children to cope with a crisis. Similarly, Lionetti & Christner, (2010) noted that the students’ ability to cope with a crisis in school can be determined by the pre-crisis preparation strategies, current life situations and family structure and support. The other factors are academic performance, supportive peer groups, maturity, age, and resources available to the students.
The strengthening of such support elements in schools through preparation programs ensures that students have a buffer zone where they can react and cope positively in a crisis of any nature. Thus, whereas Lebow (2007) noted that no one individual can respond to trauma in a consistent and predictable manner, they do not, however, show the pre-crisis factors that can greatly enhance the student’s ability to deal with a crisis that is stressful and traumatic in nature.
Important Steps in School Crisis Management Plans
According to Brock & Poland (2002), preparation for a crisis follows important steps that must be accomplished if that plan is going to be successful in averting or minimizing the negative impact of the crisis. The steps include getting support from relevant groups on how to develop a crisis response team in school and identifying appropriate persons to form a team. Other steps include the need to identify procedures and resources that are required to initiate an effective response process to different crises that might take place in a school environment (Randolph & Coates, 2006).
The overall aspect in these steps is that they should help the school administration and all the staff and students to provide a structural response plan to a crisis to allow for a timely response. These are critical elements when it comes to managing and controlling a crisis event. A number of researchers also discuss the essence of a timely and structured response immediately after a crisis (Brock et al., 2001; Jimerson & Huff, 2002). These authors explore several different reasons that make timely and structural response an important aspect in controlling a crisis in a school setting.
For instance, Brock et al., (2001) argue that because most crisis events are likely to be characterized by chaos and disruption, poor handling of the situation can expound the negative impacts likely to be realized in the wake of the crisis. This can exacerbate the casualties following a crisis. The resultant effect is that both teachers and students might escape the crisis unhurt physically but emotionally they may never be able to deal with that environment again in the future (Sandoval, 1998).
As such, the level of preparedness can contribute to the kind of sense and calmness that students and school staff exhibit after a crisis (der Heide, Lafond & Eyre, 2001). This is a vital element in preparing for a crisis; the response mechanisms prevent the students and staff from physical harm but ultimately causes a traumatic effect on the students so much that they cannot function normally in that particular environment. Therefore, a good response plan should incorporate strategies that prevent the anxiety and intensity of the trauma that victims are likely to experience as a result of a crisis event (Allen & Ashbaker, 2004; Brock & Poland, 2002; Jimerson & Huff, 2002). In most cases, learning institutions that handle a crisis situation in an effective manner provide a plan that instills a sense of security among students, a well-structured approach, and a stable and routine-based training program that makes students and staff comfortable whenever a crisis might happen.
School Administration Support in Crisis Management Plan
The school administration is at the center of every crisis management plan. There can never be a successful handling of the crisis in a school if the school administration was not involved in planning and developing a crisis response mechanism (Kingshott & McKenzie, 2013). This is because every school has unique characteristics that must be put into consideration when developing a crisis management plan. For instance, the number of students in schools can be an important factor that school administration should consider when developing a school crisis management plan (Wang, Wie & Xiang, 2008). Schools have different numbers of students. As such, a school with students in excess of 1000 might require different resources or approaches to dealing with a crisis like a fire outbreak than a school with 200 students. The subways and exit routes need to be wider for a school with 1000 students, for example (Johnston & Paton, 2012).
The development of the critical school-based programs and intervention mechanisms is the role of the school administration (Falkenrath, 2001). The administration must also consider putting in their budget the costs of training and planning of necessary procedures as well as the resources and time required to execute them. The administration support in most cases is done at the district level and is focused on the creation of response levels, responsive administrators, and other stakeholders like fire departments. It enables these stakeholders to take an active role in preparing for a crisis and coordinating the response efforts whenever a crisis may occur (Johnson, 2000; Klicker, 2000; Poland, 1998; Poland et al., 2001).
The support that school administration gives is essential in helping the school-based teams to collate necessary resources for the process of planning and preparing for an unforeseen crisis. Furthermore, the actual response processes are more likely to be less systematic and more disorganized in cases where the school administration has no necessary support tools and skills to handle such a situation. To this end, the use of district level support is primarily to remind the school administration that crises cannot be fully ruled out and that being ready with resources and skills can minimize the impact (Croft, 2005).
The Process of a Creating School Crisis Management and Response Team
One important step in preparing the school for a crisis is identifying people who are responsible for responding to a crisis immediately (Dwyer & Jimerson, 2002; Poland et al., 2001). Evidently, a single person cannot manage or respond to a crisis of whatever scale in a school environment without the involvement of other people (Mosca & Sweeney, 2005). As such, researchers argue that the process of developing and training response teams should encompass all members of a school community. Different models of organizing and planning for crisis response teams have been proposed in the literature. These include the use of the school-based teams, combined school-community teams, and district or regional school response teams. The majority of researchers noted that a hierarchical model of responding to a crisis in a school setting is the best approach in many cases. The model advocates for school-based approach and a district/regional response (Brock, 2002c; Brock et al., 2001; Klicker, 2000; Kline et al., 1995; Lichtenstein, Schonfeld, & Kline, 1994; Newgass & Schonfeld, 2000; Petersen & Straub, 1992; Trump, 2000).
The hierarchical approach is recommended because it emphasizes that the first responders should be the people at the scene of the crisis who are in a position to deal with it immediately. The district/regional response should only come in to give additional support and skills when necessary (Pitcher & Poland, 1992; Poland, 1998). For this reason, school-based teams need to have in place the necessary equipment and skills to deal with any type of crisis before involving the higher response teams. For instance, schools are expected to have fire extinguishers in their premises and trained fire fighters among the students and teachers. This will enable them to respond immediately to a fire outbreak rather than waiting for district fire departments to come in to fight a fire outbreak.
A number of benefits can be derived from prior preparation of primary responders in schools. These include: the level of familiarity in the school team’s response and the level of awareness of the existing needs of staff and students at the school (Brock et al., 2001; Pitcher & Poland, 1992; Poland, 1998; Trump, 2000). This form of awareness and familiarity itself can increase the possibility of people who are likely to experience a crisis to seek for support before the actual crisis occurs. Similarly, the primary response team is able to familiarize itself with its members. Thus, it is able to act in a coordinated manner whenever a crisis suddenly occurs (Fischer, 2007). Each of the team members knows the expertise that everyone can bring in responding to a particular crisis in school. As noted by Inglesby (2011), the ability of the crisis response team to effectively respond to a crisis is exhibited by the level of coordination and management that the team has among its members. This can be achieved through demonstration events that the school and the community occasionally hold in preparation for a crisis. It also boosts the sense of security and safety that the crisis response team is likely to have since they usually practice together.
Moreover, Underwood & Dunne-Maxim (2000) and Young (2002) observe that primary responders at the school level are able to exhibit responsibility when providing immediate and long-term follow-up activities at the school. Primary responders usually have a planning and response strategy whenever a crisis occurs and have not been known to wait for other persons to come and lead the process of handling a crisis. Because the first decision is made immediately after the crisis occurs, there are high chances that the significant impact will be meted out following the timely response (Kano & Bourque, 2007).This is the reason why schools should have people who are trained among its members to respond immediately to a crisis as a way of ensuring the necessary procedures are executed as soon as possible.
Furthermore, primary responders at a school level are also known to be responsible for supporting victims of a crisis following the crisis.
Secondary responders normally come to deal with the crisis and leave as soon as the crisis is put under control (Decker, 1997; Eaves, 2001). This leaves victims without any professional support on how to proceed following the incident. When the response team resides among the victims, it is possible to create a sense of safety and security as students and staff members are assured of protection whenever a crisis may happen again. This is the reason why training of staff members is so important at the school level. They are able to identify students or staff members who are traumatized by the crisis and who need more support to deal with the trauma. In this case, secondary responders provided by other teams only play a role in arresting the crisis and providing advanced resources to deal with a crisis (Kano & Bourque, 2007).
The availability and efficiency of such teams demonstrates the increasing benefits of a group of response teams, especially where more trained and specialized help is required (Schonfeld, 2002). For example, in a bomb threat crisis, experts in handling live bombs should be brought in to handle the crisis. However, they also must be familiar with different characteristics of the school response procedures and should be conversant with the experiences of the trained staff in that particular school (Greenstone & Leviton, 2010). In a number of school response procedures, secondary responders are required to have intensive training to handle unique situations in a school that has unique characteristics. The teams and individuals should also be available for consultation by school administration and be ready to provide training for school-based response teams (Underwood & Dunne-Maxim, 2000; Young, 2002).
Consequently, Gower (2013) noted that many regional or district level teams should be used less frequently in the handling of an actual crisis, unless that crisis is beyond the level of a school-based response team. In this case, the regional and district teams are mainly involved in training the teams at the school level. A district response team may only be required in instances of a large-scale crisis that involves the entire school or community. Such crises can include floods, fires, and bomb threats. Additionally, the district response team should give support to school teams through provision of additional expertise or extra responders as may be needed. The size and complexity of the team can vary depending on the existing factors. In most cases, school response teams are not conventionally large because of insufficient resources to train them and also the need to allow for effective coordination when a crisis occurs. On average, the most ideal school-based teams are composed of six to ten trained responders.
However, the number of responders should depend on the number of staff and students in a particular school. According to Allen & Ashbaker, (2004) and Brock (2002), schools need to have one person trained to deal with a crisis per a hundred members in a school environment. On the other hand, regional or district response teams should have more members depending on the size of schools and community in which they serve as well as their responsibilities. In many cases, higher level response teams normally have many people to serve and frequently respond to crises. This calls for better resources and skills in handling the crises whenever they occur.
In many instances, school based response teams have no necessary training capacity and skills to independently prepare and intervene in a crisis. A few researchers advocated for the use of community response teams in collaboration with the school teams as a way of increasing the resources and skills available. The researchers argued that this can increase the necessary support whenever the schools are closed down following a crisis. It can also provide additional resources to deal with large-scale crises (Johnson, 2000; Underwood & Dunne-Maxim, 2000; Young, 2002).
Whereas such a response system can have a number of advantages, Allen & Ashbaker, (2004) and Brock (2002) observed that there should be serious considerations in cases where a school and a community are partnering to control the crisis. For instance, the existence of a prior plan to determine how the community can be used in responding to a crisis and ensure that they have the necessary skills and training is crucial. Additionally, it is also important that the community responders are involved in the training together with the school team to familiarize themselves with the cultural aspects of various schools and the surroundings. It is also important that the community response team is led by the school team or staff from the school. This can help avoid any possible destruction of school property or cause of injury to people resulting from poor management and coordination.
There are two community based crisis intervention protocols that a number of schools have implemented following a crisis. The National Organization of Victims Assistance is one such intervention protocol that emphasizes the essence of giving a psychological first aid procedure to students who are involved in a crisis event. The other protocol is the Critical Incident Stress Management system which has the same aim as the NOVA. The key thing about community response is that they must act in collaboration with school managements to give support during crisis events that are large in nature and which can overwhelm the available response mechanisms (Hanna, 1998; Newgass & Schonfeld, 2000).
The Responsibilities of Crisis Management Team in Schools
Crisis response teams need to have defined roles and responsibilities that they can play whenever a crisis occurs. The identification of these roles and responsibilities lies in the training process that members of a team undergo while preparing for the crisis. A number of researchers in the school crisis management and preparation observe that the essence of having a school-based response team that is efficient relies on the clear and precise definition of roles and responsibilities (Brock et al., 2001; Caudle, 1994; Croft, 2005).
Following this important aspect in crisis management in schools, it is the responsibility of the crisis response team to access different professional resources that will help it to define and accomplish the different needs of a crisis (Quinn, 2002; Roberts, Lepkowski, & Davidson, 1998; 2004; Trump, 2000). Similarly, the members of the crisis response team must understand their roles and duties well so that they can collaborate effectively in the event of a crisis. Effective collaboration will ensure that the process of preventing, handling, and recovery from a crisis occurs in a systematic and professional manner. This will arguably reduce the level of impact that the crisis is likely to have on the normal activities in the school.
The design and development of a crisis plan should be prepared with consideration to the possible responsibilities that team members are likely to have. An important aspect is the timely response, as it will make no sense to know what the responsibilities are but see the response long after the crisis has happened. It will be equally awkward to respond on time without the knowledge of the roles or responsibilities to be played. A timely and professional response by staff and members of the crisis management team in school should foster a sense of security and safety and avoid chaos or stampede and panic among students. Basic to the successful management of a crisis in a school setting is the conclusive pre-planning strategic and preparation approaches that allow everyone to know their roles and responsibilities (Metzgar, 2002; Obiakor et al., 1997; Stevenson, 2002). Researchers who have written on this topic always advocate for crisis management systems that allow for pre-developed response plans that are comprehensive and systematic prior to the occurrence of a crisis (Brock, 2002; Brock & Poland, 2002; Brock et al., 2001; Croft, 2005).
The majority of these researchers specified that school crisis management systems should be based on written manuals and handbooks that are easily available to use in all aspects of preparing and intervening in a crisis (Pleviak & Milkevitch, 2001; Thompson, 2004). The documents should include the necessary and practical strategies to ensure the security and safety of school members as a first priority whenever a crisis occurs. They should also have the roles and responsibilities of every person who is involved in handling a crisis, with specific procedures that must be followed in case a crisis is declared. Moreover, there should be a section on the long-term measures and support activities as well as communication procedures in case people need further information. This means that not everyone should jump on the bandwagon and start responding to a crisis without a clear knowledge of the roles and responsibilities that are required (Brock, 2002; Gullatt & Long, 1996; Pagliocca & Nickerson, 2001). School crisis response systems need the identified procedures and activities as part of the safety training plan if they are going to take crisis preparation and response seriously.
The Need for a Checklist in School Crisis Management
In the event of a crisis, the ensuing confusion and panic can cause people to forget about important elements. Teacher training on how to handle a crisis should involve the development of a checklist to allow for quicker response, especially in areas that are crucial to arrest the situation. The checklist is also important as it can ensure that all the necessary steps are followed when responding to a crisis. Many researchers in crisis management and response advocate for the creation and use of checklists especially during training for teachers and other staff in schools (Brock et al., 2001; 2004; Johnson, 2000; Poland et al., 2001). Such tools like checklists provide critical support to the response team because any crisis, regardless of its intensity, is likely to create an environment where the team of responders cannot think clearly and maintain the professional response that is required of them.
Another important tool that should be emphasized during training for the crisis management team is channels of communication. Effective communication approaches in handling a crisis can ensure that casualties and damage to property is minimized. Schools need to have a contact database of the relevant authorities and information sources where they can easily and quickly seek support. The use of necessary support groups depends not only on the availability of the contact database but also the efficiency of using that particular database to make contacts (Finnis & Becker, 2007).
For instance, specialists in the field of crisis management in schools have recommended that contact procedures during a crisis should be executed in two different processes. The first process involves the identification of the necessary and recommended procedures. That is, the team should be able to identify the relevant people that should be contacted first as per the recommendation standards before making any contacts. For example, when the crisis is overwhelming, the school response team should consider first making calls to the district or community response team. This should be done before contacting the media to tell them about the seriousness of the crisis. The same should be the case when calling people like parents of the students, so that they are only informed when the situation is under control but not when they are just beginning to respond to the crisis (Brock et al., 2001; Jimerson & Huff, 2002; Newgass & Schonfeld, 2000; Trump, 2000).
The effectiveness of a procedural approach to contact and communication is that it helps take care of the most urgent issues and avoid causing panic to people who are involved in the crisis. The second approach of communication should involve debriefing everyone involved, including the staff members and students (Pleviak & Milkevitch, 2001; Thompson, 2004). The fire assembly points are good locations to communicate to members of the school and ensure that everyone is safe and secure. School administration must emphasize the importance of following recommended procedures in accurately passing the information to people who are involved in the crisis. Equally, the administration must be clear on the subsequent procedures to be followed in response to the crisis (Fagel, 2013).
Furthermore, this approach should allow regular updates to the members to ensure accurate information and avoid panic or unnecessary emotional reaction. For example, in situations where a student is killed in a crisis, this information should be communicated in time and in an appropriate way to avoid causing confusion and emotional collapse among fellow students. Consulting services should be brought in immediately to help students to start dealing with the trauma of the event (Dunlap, 2012).
The Identification of Necessary Rooms and Resources Required for Training
Many schools are unable to effectively respond to crises because they have not allocated the necessary resources to handling any crisis. The process of preparation to manage and control any crisis should start with the identification of the available resources, both financial and physical, to help in planning for a crisis. For instance, the information about the exit routes during a crisis can only be communicated to students when necessary equipment and tools such as escape signs are put in place and students are trained on how to use them (Brock et al., 2001; Klicker, 2000; Poland et al., 2001; Thompson, 2004).
Additionally, the identification of the required tools should specify the process and procedures that people who are affected in the crisis should undertake to avoid the impact of the crisis. For instance, students must remain calm and exit slowly from their rooms in case of a bomb scare rather than scrambling to exit from the rooms in a stampede which can cause injury to themselves or others. The planning of physical resources should be undertaken as a precautionary measure in case a crisis occurs instead of waiting for it to occur and later trying to provide the resources. These physical resources can include class lists and schools that are required to respond to a crisis. Some schools already put in place tool boxes that contain all the materials required in a crisis event.
Developing School Crisis Preparation Strategies and Response Training
School crisis preparation and response training should be emphasized in all schools. The training is particularly important to ensure that appropriate persons are well equipped to handle any crisis situation (Quinn, 2002; Schonfeld, 1993; Trump, 2000; Waddell &Thomas, 1999; Zenere, 1998). School staff and students can benefit in a number of ways from such preparation and training. As noted by Nader &Muni (2002), a school that is well prepared to deal with any crisis can contribute to the reduced negative impact of the crisis on the school fraternity. Prior preparation also reduces the chaos that can result from a crisis as well as improve the performance of a team in the event of a crisis. Similarly the school administration and crisis teams must have a strong basis of intervention skills that can enable them to respond effectively in the event of a crisis. The high quality of training skills and resources also help to handle the many barriers brought about when creating a crisis response team in a school setting. School administration with experience and expertise in crisis management are always called upon to lead the process of preparing and training the rest of the school to mitigate or handle a crisis event (Schonfeld, 1993; Trump, 2000).
The frequency of training is an important aspect in school crisis management and preparation (Bennett, 2010). Most schools normally have monthly training sessions for all school members. However, researchers in this field note that training for specified team members must be an on-going process as situations change and the information they had a month ago might not be applicable in a crisis situation that occurs presently. Response team members need to have regular training sessions to allow them to practice basic skills in handling a crisis. Based on this analysis, Couvillion, Peterson, & Ryan (2012) observed that training for teachers in schools should occur regularly to allow the concerned parties to learn and practice the necessary response procedures.
In the process of developing such training strategies, particular learning approaches should help to ensure that essential skills are explored and that all concerned people are equipped to apply the skills in an effective manner (Boin & McConnell, 2007). This can be a costly exercise for schools that do not have the support of parents and other stakeholders. Most of the recommended training approaches should encompass the adult learning principle, such as clear stating of the objectives of learning. The activities need to include individual as well as group skills as people will work in a group in case of a crisis. The mode of delivery of the learning process is also important and may include practical drills, simulations, role-plays, and lectures. The participants in the training sessions must access debriefing on the experiences of handling a crisis situation and integrate new learning skills (Boon & Brown, 2011).
It is also essential to consider relevant skills that the training sessions cover so that it reflects the most probable crisis that is likely to occur (Brock & Nickerson, 2011). For instance, schools that are located in drier regions should not focus on training on how to handle a flood crisis. In the same way, schools located in areas that are prone to storms or hurricanes can focus on those kinds of emergencies. However, basic skills should be given priority regardless of the most likely crisis that may occur in the school. In school settings, the steps and skills required must focus on developing a curriculum that is effective for that particular school. Trainers will not likely cover all aspects as crisis can be a wide concept. Furthermore, the skills cannot be taught in a single sitting. Thus, a continuous process that covers different aspects of training skills should be used in a school setting. The scope of the training sessions will also reflect the skills that participants already have about crisis management to avoid creating a confused team with multiplicity of parallel skills (Drennan & McConnell, 2007).
The Summary of Literature Review Chapter
This chapter has explored the different aspects of school crisis management. The chapter reveals that many factors must be considered when developing and creating a school crisis management plan. They include; training of staff and other response team members, the mitigation and recovery process, and the involvement of other stakeholders in the handling of any crisis in school. District response teams and community response teams are a few of the stakeholders that need to be considered when developing a crisis response plan. Communication is also an important part in the management of a crisis as it can allow support from various groups and teams. The school administration also needs to put in place mechanisms that allow effective communication to internal and external stakeholders before and during a crisis. Prior to the crisis, effective communication will allow parties to support the training program through provision of required resources and trainers. During the crisis, communication will allow for proper channels of communication to be used. In this way, it will give greater control of the crisis by the response teams. Coordination is also another aspect that ensures training and response to a crisis follows professional procedures that enable staff and other response team members in the school environment to get relevant skills to handle a crisis whenever it occurs.
The literature reviewed provides many models and approaches that schools can use to respond to a crisis of any nature. Despite the fact that there is little evidence to support the use of such models and steps, their applicability can only be tested in an actual crisis situation in schools. A few researchers explore the effectiveness of a training curriculum in special schools specifically designed to train the subject. The available literature only provides a general overview of training staff and teams in the general school setting. This makes it difficult to determine the variance in the applicability of the recommendations in the literature on specific schools. Through careful consideration of the strategies that are recommended in the literature including crisis training sessions and major principles in handling a crisis in schools, it is expected that the researcher will be able to create and evaluate a comprehensive mechanism for effective training and response in schools. This study will thus fill the gap in the teacher-training process that other researchers have not identified and help schools to utilize resources available to them by prioritizing the process of prevention, preparation, response, and recovery. This will be done through wholesome teacher training.