High-Quality Emergency Operations Planning (EOP)

4.2 Delegating Responsibility

The desired outcomes, discussed in the previous subsection of this toolkit, define the various courses of action necessary to effectively mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from the impact of an incident. Many of these actions may be shared across the different hazards and threats faced by a school district, while others may be unique to a specific hazard, threat, or facility. Essentially, the desired outcomes depict how a school will address the threats and hazards. Once the planning team determines what actions will be taken, then the team must work to determine who will carry out the various activities.

Who is responsible?

In most cases, responsibility for achieving a desired outcome rests not with one person, but with several throughout the district. The many departments and layers of personnel within a district are interrelated, with the decisions and actions of one department having either a direct or indirect effect on others. For instance, a change by district administration to the procurement policy will affect all departments who must acquire materials or services to support their needs. Understanding the interrelated nature of school operations is necessary to ensure that the planning team delegates responsibility appropriately.

Consider the evacuation of a single campus within the district during the school day. What school personnel have a role in ensuring that all personnel, students, and visitors are relocated? While the answer of the planning team will differ from district to district, most schools will find some similarities:

  • District Administration will establish general guidance for the evacuation of facilities, allowance of emergency procurement procedures in existing policies, and the notification of all necessary parties.
  • District Transportation will establish standard operating procedures on the reallocation of personnel and vehicles to ensure that all persons are relocated in a timely and orderly manner while keeping accountability of all persons during transit.
  • District Finance will ensure that emergency procurements for services are both allowable and conducted in a timely manner to support on-site operations.
  • The campus principal will oversee all on-site operations while ensuring the safety of all personnel, students, and visitors.
  • Each teacher will ensure that all students and visitors exit the building in a safe and timely manner and will maintain accountability of all students throughout the evacuation process.

Of course, this a simplistic look at a much more complex operation. A closer examination by the planning team should identify additional personnel with responsibilities that support the evacuation function. The planning team should consider determining and delegating responsibility based on what must occur before, during, and after the impact of a hazard or threat. By looking at who is doing what at each point in time, then a comprehensive set of responsibilities can be identified for each key position within the district.

Integrating the Incident Command System

Emergencies require that certain tasks or functions need to be performed. A challenge for schools is to transition rapidly from daily operations to incident management. Mandated for use by Texas Education Code 37.108, ICS is a good way to accomplish this shift. District emergency planners should ensure that district policies acknowledge ICS as the standard for incident management for the district and for its campuses.

ICS is a modular and proactive method for managing any size or magnitude of incident. It applies best practices for safety and security, which helps to foster a good learning environment. The system is simple enough to ensure ease of understanding and application. The concept of ICS is to manage incidents, whether they are simple or complex, as efficiently and effectively as possible. ICS operates with three basic premises:

  • Every incident needs a person in charge.
  • No one should direct more than seven individuals or less than three individuals.
  • No one should report to more than one person.

The Incident Action Plan (IAP) is used to map out the actions taken during an ICS managed incident. While formal IAP documents are available for use, the unique nature of school-based incident response warrants alterations to meet those different needs.

What is the Incident Command System (ICS)?

ICS is a standardized, on-scene, all-hazard, incident management approach based on best practices. Established as part of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), ICS provides a nationwide template enabling federal, state, local and tribal governments and private-sector and non-governmental organizations to work together effectively and efficiently to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from incidents.

As a component of NIMS which is mandated for use by Texas Education Code 37.108, ICS should be cited in district policies as the standard for incident management for the district and for its campuses.

Throughout a high-quality school emergency planning process, the concepts and structure of ICS will be the primary framework used when addressing the established operational and tactical objectives. Response actions should be developed assuming that an incident will expand and require expanded management, thereby requiring ICS.

District personnel should be aware of the ICS structure and their identified role in the event of an emergency. Although this task may seem daunting, schools already have a similar organizational system in place. The existing ICS structure mirrors many of the structures that campuses already have including:

  • Grade-level teams
  • Subject-area departments
  • Campus administrative teams
  • Support service groups

Note: Experienced emergency planners often discover that the highest ranking official or administrator is not always the best fit for the Incident Commander role. Those willing to take on the Incident Commander role should ensure their full understanding of its duties and responsibilities and also show due diligence by seeking quality training and scenario-based practice to build confidence for execution on the day of an incident or emergency.

How can the school work seamlessly with local response agencies?

Critical incidents often overlap jurisdictional boundaries. One event can and often does affect several communities and response agencies. Unified Command (UC) allows the district and/or campus to be involved jointly and contribute to resolving the situation. With Unified Command, all organizations and agencies with responsibilities in the incident are allowed to carry out those tactics in an integrated manner. This helps ensure a cohesive response and reduces the chance of organizational conflicts. It also allows resources to be used to their maximum benefit.

Shifting from Day-to-day Operations to Emergency Response Operations

Educational professionals are well versed in shifting from one design structure to another when the change involves curriculum or management changes. In fact, the existing ICS structure mirrors many of the structures that campuses already have in place.

For clarification, both common educational hierarchy and Incident Command System can exist – just not simultaneously. However, communication and tasking methods are appreciably different between the two. The difficulty is often illustrated when educators must interact with outside response agencies in a moderate to large scale incident. This is where the daily educational hierarchy needs to switch to ICS in order to yield the best outcome.

In common educational hierarchy, there is a two-way flow of communication in which roles and responsibilities are assigned. An administrator would go to their designated supervisor with the more significant issues or problems. But with minor issues, the same administrator might use problem solving techniques or choose to move more laterally on the hierarchy to engage another administrator. In this case, the supervisor may not ever hear of the issue.

In a very large, complicated situation, common educational hierarchy dictates an “all-hands-on-deck” philosophy. In these instances, the implementation of the Incident Command System allows the district to place the most qualified person, regardless of position in the educational hierarchy, into each position. Since ICS is designed to improve incident-based communication and coordination, information can flow freely throughout the organization, thereby allowing the district or campus to maintain a “common operating picture”.

What ICS training is available for school district and campus staff?

    Additional Training

  • Higher level district and campus administrators accepting an Incident Commander’s role, ICS-300 (Intermediate ICS for Expanding Incidents) will facilitate school-based leaders’ transition to a Unified Command structure in large scale incidents, disasters or emergencies. This course is available locally and only in a classroom setting. The Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) online training website is the registration resource for ICS-300.