How to Prepare

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Schools should develop emergency operations plans in collaboration with local organizations and conduct exercises to practice their plan. They should also incorporate preparedness into their daily activities.

Emergency Operations Plans (EOPs)

Schools should develop emergency operations plans (EOPs) that are detailed and address steps to take during and after various types of short- and long-duration emergencies.

emergency plan documents in paper binder
  • Contact list, chain of command, roles, and responsibilities
  • Emergency supply lists and locations
  • Evacuation routes and procedures, including for when students are outside the classroom (e.g., before or after school, between classes, at lunch, at recess)
  • How privacy laws and regulations apply during and after an emergency
  • How the school will learn about weather and other emergencies
  • How to continue providing (and scaling up as needed post-emergency) essential services (e.g., school meals, education for students with special needs, and mental and physical health care)
  • How to obtain sufficient staffing and substitutes if many staff members are absent
  • Plans for when and how to switch to remote learning
  • Process for sharing information with relevant groups of people in their preferred language, including backup methods in case electricity, internet, and/or phone lines are not working
  • Provisions for staff and students with access and functional needs (e.g., those with disabilities or special healthcare needs, non-native English speakers, or who are low-income)
  • Shelter in place locations and procedures, including for when students are outside the classroom (e.g., before or after school, between classes, at lunch, at recess)
  • Threat and hazard risk assessment

The U.S. Department of Education’s Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center (REMS TA Center) provides a detailed guide for developing high-quality EOPs.

When developing the EOP, schools should involve multiple individuals and organizations. Reaching a wider audience can build partnerships and enable development of memoranda of understanding (MOUs) to create a support network in case of an emergency.

Schools often serve as emergency shelters and meeting points during a community emergency.

Partners and schools should consider the core mission of schools to provide a safe space and healthy education for students and the additional role of providing essential social services.

By discussing and planning ahead, partners and schools can help protect student health, safety, and ability to remain in school.

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As part of the EOP development process, schools and partners should document when and how a school should be used during an emergency.

Groups to consider including in the EOP development process

  • General counsel
  • Human resources and staff unions
  • Language services (e.g., interpreters and translators; may also need external support)
  • Parents, legal guardians, caregivers, and families
  • Staff members (e.g., administrators, teachers, counselors, maintenance personnel, nutrition staff, athletic directors, school club leaders, school nurses, school resource officers)
  • Students
  • American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) state chapters
  • Contract companies that can provide additional staff, if needed
  • Emergency personnel (police, fire, and emergency medical services)
  • Health department
  • Hospitals and local healthcare providers (e.g., pediatricians and family practice doctors)
  • Local emergency management agencies
  • Local Tribes
  • Media
  • Social service and religious organizations (e.g., organizations providing food, housing, foster care, or mental health support)

Training Topics

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Schools should provide relevant trainings to staff members, students, and families to help them implement the EOP. Trainings should also include families whose primary language is not English and families of children with functional or special healthcare needs. Everyone should know their role and what to do if an emergency occurs. Training topics might include information on the following topics, among others:

  • How the school will communicate with students, families, and staff members during and after an emergency
  • How to support the mental health of students and staff members during and after an emergency
  • How to triage students and staff members who are injured
  • What to do in different types of emergencies


Exercises allow schools to practice using their EOP to respond to both short- and long-duration emergencies.

It is important that the exercises involve people representing racial and ethnic minority groups and people with disabilities and other special needs. This can help ensure that everyone is protected during and after an emergency.

For information about the participation of students in exercises, read the AAP policy statementParticipation of Children and Adolescents in Live Crisis Drills and Exercises


Exercises can include:

  • Scenario-based games and workshops,
  • Tabletop exercises,
  • Functional exercises, or
  • Full-scale exercises.

Each of these types of exercises can identify gaps in the EOP.

Some exercises might affect the mental health of students and staff members. School administrators setting up exercises that involve students or staff can work with school nurses, school counselors, other school health staff, and teachers. This can ensure that the exercises are conducted in a way that is developmentally and culturally appropriate and does not create trauma.

Administrators should provide opportunities to support mental health, coping, and resiliency, especially before and after a full-scale exercise that includes mock student injuries or deaths. This is especially important for students and staff with disabilities or who have prior traumatic experiences.

After conducting an exercise, the school should gather feedback from participants and update the EOP. This process should be repeated as needed

How to Integrate Preparedness into Daily Activities

General Preparedness

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Administrators and staff members should integrate preparedness into the daily activities of the school.

Steps to help ensure the school is prepared

Administrators and other relevant staff members should know where the items below are located. These items should also stay up to date.
  • Automated External Defibrillators
  • Carbon monoxide detectors
  • Contact lists (e.g. designated staff members, emergency personnel)
  • Emergency supplies (e.g., food and essential medications for an extended shelter-in-place emergency)
  • EOP
  • Fire extinguishers
  • First aid kits, including personal protective equipment
  • Flashlights
  • Generators, if applicable
  • Material Safety Data Sheets
  • Smoke alarms
  • Stop the Bleed Kits
  • Records of student medical needs, in compliance with applicable privacy laws and regulations
  • Records of students on-site, at field trips, on school transportation, or walking to or from school at any given time, in compliance with applicable privacy laws and regulations
Administrators, staff members, and emergency personnel should know the following:
  • Evacuation routes
  • Post-evacuation gathering sites
  • Shelter in place locations
  • Designate staff members to receive and communicate emergency alerts and warnings.
  • Develop a mass communication method to quickly communicate important information to parents, legal guardians, and caregivers. Methods may include phone, email, text, app notifications, social media, or other communication methods. Information sent can include what the school is doing to protect students and what parents, legal guardians, caregivers, and families need to do. This information should be provided to families in their preferred language.
  • Develop and maintain relationships with relevant local organizations.
  • Review ADA Accessibility Standards and ensure communications are accessible according to ADA regulations.

Create a healthy and supportive school environment to strengthen students’ emotional well-being, coping strategies, and resiliency before a disaster occurs.

Infectious Disease Prevention


For infectious diseases, schools can take multiple actions every day to help prevent the spread of disease among students and staff members. These include the following:

  • Establishing and maintaining an infection prevention and control (IPC) advisory committee in collaboration with the local health department, tribal public health, hospital system, or healthcare providers to provide guidance on school infection control policies
  • Supporting excused absences for students and staff members who are sick
  • Ensuring that students and staff members are up to date on their vaccinations
  • Optimizing ventilation systems
  • Encouraging handwashing and covering of coughs and sneezes
  • Following procedures for routine cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfection (when indicated)
  • Developing systems to track illness-related absenteeism and monitor for trends
  • Supporting training of school nurses and other healthcare staff in infection prevention and control policies and practices