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School Crisis Toolkit – Before an Incident

1. Use an anonymous reporting system or tip line

All districts should establish reporting systems to be used by staff, students and families that provide anonymity. Anonymous tip lines allow students, parents, and staff to report concerns without fear of retaliation. There are a number of companies listed below. Check with your insurance provider, as many insurance companies and Joint-Power Authorities have relationships with anonymous tip lines and may provide it to the district free of charge.


  • Share the link to a tip line on your school and district websites.
  • Ensure that at least 2-3 staff members in the district are contacted when tips or reports are submitted.
  • Communicate the availability of the tip line at least quarterly to students, families, and staff members.

Resources for online reporting systems:

  • We Tip” – This online anonymous crime reporting hotline links staff and local law enforcement to tips provided by students, staff and community. While this is fee-based, many insurance companies will pay for or subsidize this service.
  • Catapult Emergency Management System – This fee-based emergency management and communications system is one that many districts have successfully used during emergencies.
  • See Something, Say Something program – The Department of Homeland Security site for the See Something, Say Something program includes downloadable print materials and infographics.
  • FBI Tips and Public Leads – The FBI offers an online form to report information on criminal activity and suspected terrorist threats.

2. Establish a district and school safety committee comprised of a myriad of key stakeholders

A district level safety committee should meet at least quarterly to create, reflect upon, and update district safety plans.  Recommended stakeholders for a district committee should include, but not be limited to: superintendent, business administrator, human resources administrator, facilities director, law enforcement representative, principals, transportation manager, food services manager, and district parent representatives.

Regular communication should occur with school site level safety committees. Recommended stakeholders for school site safety committees include, but not limited to site administrator, teacher representatives, classified representatives, parents, and students, depending on grade levels.

Suggested Topics for Safety Meeting Agendas:

  • Technology.
  • Tip lines.
  • Policy.
  • Specific training.
  • Student perspectives on safety.
  • Communicating with parents about drills.
  • How to talk to students about a drill.
  • Emergency supplies.
  • Hot topics at school sites around safety.
  • Local law enforcement issues.
  • Facility issues.


  • Before the Crisis, Leadership for the District – Tennessee Schools provides great tips for district/site safety and emergency response teams. This information would be helpful when setting up your teams.
  • Making Schools Safer Quick Reference Guide – The Department of Homeland Security produced a two page review of key aspects of school security. This is a valuable read and conversation starter for a team working through aspects of school safety.
  • Violence Prevention Plan – Looking for a more detailed plan to prevent violence in a district or school? This two page document from the United States Secret Service provides an eight-step process that can be used with a safety team.

3. Update safety plan regularly and train all staff on its contents

The district/school safety plan should be collaboratively updated at least annually by the safety committee. Staff training should occur at least annually for all personnel (certificated, classified, substitutes, and management). Designated roles and responsibilities should be reviewed and practiced. Quarterly table-top simulations/scenarios should be used in staff meetings.

School sites should annually inventory emergency supplies and first aid kits, and replenish as necessary. Ongoing training in CPR, first aid, and emergency medical aid should be offered for staff members, and site plans updated with this information. Fire departments can often provide basic CPR training at no cost as well as how to effectively use of automated external defibrillators (AED’s).


  • Sample Scenarios – These scenarios can be used with staff to either practice drills or talk through them in staff meetings.
  • How to Use an AED video – This video by the American Heart Association shows how to use an AED and can be used with staff in training.
  • When Seconds Count First Aid video – This video by American Safety EMT reviews how to provide first aid on victims suffering from slips, falls, motor vehicle incidents, cuts, bruises, head trauma, cardiac arrest, blocked airways, and more.
  • Basic CPR video – The American Heart Association created this minute long video to provide basic, hands-only CPR that can be used time and time again with staff in a very short period of time.
  • Ed Code Section 32280 – This page links to the Ed Code requirements for school safety plans.
  • Compliance Checklist – The California Department of Education developed a school safety plan compliance checklist to determine if you are meeting the requirements of the law.

4. Develop relationships with local first responders

Districts and school sites should develop relationships with local first responders, including law enforcement, fire department, and Emergency Medical Technicians. Larger districts should be aware that first responder entities with jurisdiction may vary by school site. A relationship between the district and those first on the scene should bring peace of mind to staff, parents, and students. Staff will become acquainted with their faces and become comfortable on who they can trust and allow into the school during uncertain situations. On an annual basis, law enforcement should be invited to conduct a thorough walk through of a school site and provide training to staff on topics such as when to call a lockdown, what information to report when calling 9-1-1, and how to best respond to an active threat.

Consider reaching out and establishing relationships with local faith-based organizations. They can support first responders and staff shortly after an emergency and often have sites that can be used as evacuation and reunification locations.

5. Conduct lockdown drills, at least once annually, that include all staff

Lockdown drills should be scheduled year-round with a set approach that staff is familiar with, starting at the beginning of the school year. As a district, determine the frequency of drills and district staff available for support. Empower all staff to call a lockdown.

Use simple language such as “lockdown”, not code words. Staff and students should know that a lockdown can be called for any number of reasons, not just an active shooter. All staff have the ability to call a lockdown and ensure they know how to access the intercom or communication system to broadcast the lockdown school-wide. Be familiar with how to utilize your communication system (i.e. intercom) and if the ability exists to turn on speakers in another area so it can be monitored.


  • Regular lockdown drills are a necessity so students and staff develop a “muscle memory” response to the term “lockdown” regardless of what type of scenario takes place.
  • While the requirement is to hold a lockdown drill at least annually, the more often you practice them, the more likely they will become routine. Our recommendation is to hold a monthly drill until students and staff have learned the key behaviors. At that point the drills can be moved to every other month.
  • Vary the time of day you call a lockdown – institute a lockdown during non-structured times (lunch, recess, dismissal, etc), as you never know what time an emergency will occur.
  • Always use simple language such as “lockdown”, not code words, and never use the word “drill” for any of your safety drills. You want the experience to be as realistic as possible and for students/staff to be prepared to react immediately. Things as simple as using different terminology (drill vs. the actual thing) can be enough to disrupt the trained response.
  • Be sure all staff have the ability to call a lockdown and ensure they know how to access the intercom or communication system to communicate the lockdown school-wide. Remind staff that a lockdown can be called for any number of reasons, not just an active shooter. Have intentional discussions with staff to ensure they feel empowered to call a lockdown, and reiterate that they use their best judgment and follow their gut. If they make a mistake, it just becomes another drill.
  • Be familiar with how to utilize your communication system (i.e. intercom) and if the ability exists to turn on speakers in another area so it can be monitored.
  • There are many drills that your district can choose to use as a focus for responses. Some districts choose to use “Run/Hide/Fight” while some have opted for ALICE. Because there are different options, look into them and determine what works best for your schools.

Additional Resources:

  • FEMA’s Active Shooter Training – There is training available on response to an active shooter and is about an hour long. This might be a good resource for top level staff in a district.
  • Homeland Security’s Active Shooter Training – Active shooter training is available on this site for a number of different roles in the community, including first responders and private citizens.
  • Sandy Hook Promise Say Something Program – This site has no-cost, downloadable gun violence prevention training for students through the establishment of 6th-12th grade student ambassadors.
  • FBI Active Shooter Training – The FBI provides training to civilians and organizations so they learn how to protect themselves in the event of active shooter incidents. This is an example of a resource that your parent organization may want to share to better prepare parents, families, and community members for active shooter situations in the community, including this video.
  • ALICE training – ALICE training is a course of action that will describe how students and staff can most effectively respond to an active shooter situation to minimize the loss of life, and teach and train on these practices.
  • Run, Hide, Fight – This approach to training students is one to be considered to respond to an active shooter situation.
  • Standard Response Protocol – The Standard Response Protocol (SRP) is based not on individual scenarios but on the response to any given situation.SRP demands a specific vocabulary but also allows for great flexibility. The premise is simple—there are four specific actions that can be performed during an incident: lockdown, lockout, shelter, and evacuate.

6. Implement research based social emotional learning programs that foster positive campus climate

Social Emotional Learning is an educational process for learning life skills. Research shows a direct correlation between strong SEL programs and reduced behavioral issues with students. While we know that SEL programs cannot prevent all school emergencies and threats to students, research notes that engaged students who feel safe are less likely to create issues that impact the safety of students and staff and are more likely to report concerns if they encounter them. It is strongly recommended that districts identify an SEL program that best meets the needs of students in a given area.


  • The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) – This website provides resources for SEL programs, competencies, and approaches if a district is looking for a specific information about the importance of SEL programs.
  • Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports – This site provides technical information about PBIS and includes all pertinent research and resources for schools, parents, and the community.
  • StopBullying.gov – This governmental website was established to host state laws regarding bullying, provide tips for what schools and students can do to combat bullying, and has resources for schools and staff looking to address bullying in their schools.
  • Restorative Practices: A Guide for Educators – The Schott Foundation supported research on restorative practices and assists educators in establishing positive school climates and culture through restoring relationships between those who have experienced conflict.
  • Mental Health in Schools Program and Policy Analysis – This is a detailed, 122 page mental health prevention and incident resource. Parts of this are useful if your district is seeking a checklist for mental health supports. We recommend the crisis response checklist (pages 28-29), district crisis checklist (pages 31-32), crisis screening interviews (pages 42-44) and suicidal risk checklist (pages 87-89).
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Resources for staff and students to address   suicide can be found on this webpage.

7. Create a crisis communication plan that includes specific roles, guidelines, and messaging

All schools are required to have a comprehensive safety plan with specific roles and guidelines reviewed by stakeholders on an annual basis. While it does not call for a specific communications plan, verify the existence of the plan and share the components with the school community.


  • San Bernardino City Unified School District Crisis Toolkit – This link is an example of the SBCUSD Communication Toolkit.  Beginning on page 7, samples communication documents are provided to demonstrate how they communicated to: employees, social media, the district statement, and letter to the parents informing them of the incident.
  • Crisis Communication Plan Toolkit – We recommend this resource provided by the Colorado NonProfit Association, a crisis communication plan toolkit. This toolkit includes a crisis communication policy, communication checklist, examples of phone trees, communication plan, sample press releases, decision tree, and post crisis review.
  • The Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness – This group created a well-designed, 13-page crisis communication plan. This tool can be used as a template to customize for any school district. This document contains media relations tips and reminders for leaders and staff.
  • Crisis Emergency Risk Communication – The CDC provides a document on crisis emergency risk communication. While this is a lengthy document, refer to the following pages for effective communication tools, tips and checklists.
    • Pages 21-25:  Best Practices for Communication (NIMS-National Incident Management Systems).
    • Pages 31: Application of the plan during the first 24 to 48 hours.
    • Pages 45-64: Provides a checklist that is crucial for the first 48 hours of an incident.
  • Six Key Elements of a Crisis Communication Plan – If your district is creating a detailed crisis communication plan, the information compiled by the Cassling Organization is a great one to use as a model. It includes a concise definition of a crisis, followed by the six elements.
  • American School Board Journal – This article includes tips for crisis communication and can be used as an article share during staff meetings or with a safety team.
  • US Department of Health & Human Services – This is a lengthy document for crisis, emergency and risk communication. It has a valuable communication checklist for the first 48 hours of a crisis that can be reviewed and planned for ahead of time with safety teams and a district’s communication department (pages 45-64).

8. Conduct regular security assessments of your school facilities

Security assessments of each facility in a district can be overwhelming and expensive. Many companies and consultants offer reviews of school district facilities and if that is the direction your district wants to go, we think that is a good idea. With that said, we also realize that extensively detailed analyses of district facilities can be costly and time consuming.


9. Establish several possible reunification locations and coordinate with those entities

Like any emergency, a reunification process must be planned prior to any event. These are resources that help you plan to ensure that parents and families know where to go to pick up their child and the process for staff to follow to release students to their families. Establishing a relationship with your families prior to any incident is critical. Working with your local PTAs and parent leaders to inform families is paramount to ensure the safety and well-being of all children. Successful reunification is based on pre-planning and integrating first responder personnel.

Tips for reunification:

  • Establish a parent check-in location.
  • Deliver the students to the student staging area, beyond the field of vision of parents/guardians. “Greeters” direct parents/guardians to the parent check-In location, and help them understand the process.
  • Parents/guardians complete reunification release forms. The procedure allows parents/guardians to self-sort during check-in, streamlining the process.
  • Parents go to the family waiting area for students.
  • Runner recovers student from the student staging area.
  • Controlled lines of sight allow for communication and other issues to be handled with diminished drama or anxiety.
  • Medical or investigative contingencies are anticipated.


10. Ensure students have access to mental health professionals

Preparing for emergencies and response to crisis means working with mental health professionals and staff to identify signs of possible issues and then planning for responses.


  • National Institute of Mental Health – This website offers tips for warning signs, links to depression, coping with traumatic events, and a brochure and fact sheet links.
  • Mental Health America – This website has a downloadable tool kit on how to embed mental health best practices on school campus. Charts include daily activities, such as diet, exercise, and home health that are helpful to share with parents and the greater school community.
  • California PTA – The PTA provides valuable Information on bullying prevention that is useful with parents. There is also a link “online and digital behavior” that gives a list of best practices on best practices of expected online behavior.
  • Attendance Works – This 53-page PDF document addresses student mental health (page 3) with examples of each California County’s best practices when dealing with student health.

11. Create a crisis response box

Many schools have found it helpful to create a crisis response box that is shared with a local police/sheriff’s department. This type of resource should be updated annually and include any facility changes. We recommend that staff update an emergency card annually, which includes any medication needed in the event of an emergency.

Crisis box contents:

  • Maps
  • Keys
  • Student and staff emergency cards
  • Medical information
  • Resources:

California Department of Education – This resource includes a critical incident information inventory list for creating your own crisis response box (pages 14-15).

12. Identify a crisis command center

To ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff, schools and school districts should create comprehensive, multi-hazard emergency management plans. Setting up an incident command center is a key piece of planning. It is important staff have a grasp of command center resources and that they are clear on their roles in an emergency situation. This location should be in an area away from the initial incident for safety reasons.


Read More:

During an Incident

After an Incident

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