Sunday, April 10, 2016

Emergencies, Crisis, Disasters: Do You Have a Plan?

You get a call at home or a request to come to the Principal's office.  The conversation starts with words like, "There's no easy way to say this," or "I have bad news," or "There's been an accident."  A lump forms in your throat and you catch your breath. You prepare yourself to hear about a tragedy that will impact the life or lives of your faculty, students, and their families.  You listen, you process, you plan, you put your emotions on hold, and then you take action, because that's what School Counselors do.  But sometimes, even we need help.

School Counselors are no strangers to tragedy.  We deal daily with the individual and personal tragedies of our students and colleagues.  Usually those daily tragedies are minor on the scale of a national disaster, but they are monumental in the lives of our students and our school. They require our caring, compassion, skill,  and training. The accident on the playground or at PE, the unexpectedly severe allergic reaction to an insect bite, the family custody battle, a parent going to jail, the death of a pet, the major student meltdown, the abuse report, the irate parent, the cutting, or threat of suicide all are handled in the course of a fairly typical week.

Occasionally we are called to offer our services in response to the death in a student's family, a house fire, a car accident, or the diagnosis of a terminal illness.  Rarely, although it happens, we are called to respond to the death of a student or staff member, a natural disaster, a fire in our building, a violent crime, a hostage situation, or terrorism.  While our emergencies or crisis may vary depending on the size, geographical location, and the age of our school population and facilities, the need for a prepared response to crisis and intervention is important.

Does your school or district have a Crisis Plan? A Crisis Team?  If so, do you know what your part is in that plan?  Have you been briefed on your role on the Crisis Team? If you don't know the answers, these are important questions to ask.  A school based crisis plan and a team prepared to implement it can mean the difference in stability and chaos in an emergency.  Below are some great resources School Counselors can share with administration to help their school get started in creating a crisis plan.

School Counselors will also find the websites, articles, and apps below full of valuable information from helping a student handle the death of a family member to helping the school cope with the death and loss resulting from a natural disaster. These resources represent a small sample of the detailed, professionally prepared websites and information for dealing with crisis that can be found on the internet.  Please know they are there if you need them.  It is my hope and prayer you never will.

School Crisis Guide, published by the National Education Association Health Information Network (NEAHIN) This 52 page guide is my personal favorite and an excellent resource of things to do before, during, and after a crisis.  It describes the roles of the entire school, but School Counselors can easily discern the roles for which they would most likely be responsible. This is a great publication even if you have a crisis plan.
Practical Information on Crisis Planning  A US government publication that can be printed from this link (132 pages) or ordered  for free at ED PUBS .  It takes about 10 days for delivery.
ASCA Resource Center has a lengthy list of resources and websites for all types of disasters and crisis, however you must be a member to access this resource.
Supporting your Student After the Death of a Family Member or Friend. Another resource from the NEAHIN for helping students who have experienced a death and some suggestions to share with caregivers about how to approach the funeral or memorial service with children.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has an amazing website that has more resources than can possibly be listed here. Make a visit and look under the Trauma tab at Natural Disasters and School Violence.  Also check out the Resources tab under Resources for School Personnel. The layers of information here are deep and there are links to additional websites and resources.
The National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at the University of Southern California is a excellent website with training modules for staff, sample letters for notifying students, parents, staff of a death and guidelines for responding to the death of a staff member or student.  There are also links to Psychological First Aid and supporting survivors of police line-of-duty deaths.
Guidelines for Responding to the Death of a Student or Staff Guidelines for School Counselors and Crisis Teams. A great resource.
When Families Grieve  from PBS and Sesame Street, tips for parents, printable tools and links to online resources.
Disaster Master computer game kids learn to handle disasters from house fires to earthquakes in a game format from FEMA.
Youth Emergency Preparedness Curriculum grades 1-12  These materials teach kids what to do before during and after an emergency.  They foster skills such as problem solving, teamwork, creativity, leadership and communication.
Talking With Kids About the News from our friends at PBS (Public Broadcasting). Tips for talking to children of all ages about the news.
Threat Assessment at School  brief facts and tips from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).
Resources from the NASP more information on safety, crisis,and mental health.
Going Back to School After a Tragedy   an article from the Child Mind Institute website.


Help Kids Cope  is an app available from iTunes store or Google play. It helps parents know how to prepare kids for 10 different types of disasters and what to say to help support kids throughout.
PFA Mobile  app materials are adapted from the Psychological First Aid Field Operations Guide. It helps responders self assess their readiness to conduct PFA and assess and track survivors' needs.
SAMSHA Disaster App allows responders to focus on the needs of people.  Provides access to resources for any type of traumatic event.  Has tip sheets and guides for responders, teachers and parents, and a directory of behavioral health services in the affected area.

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