A Parent's Guide to School Safety Toolkit

2.3 Emergency Operations Plan (EOP)

Emergency Operations Plan Manual

Texas is a large state with several different geographical and climate regions that can create significant threats and hazards. Hurricane Harvey caused widespread devastation with $125 billion in damages and 103 deaths. In the city of Houston, three hundred thousand homes were affected. When the floodwater eventually recedes, how does schooling continue for the students who no longer have a school to go to because it has been destroyed? Where do students and teachers who lost their homes go to for shelter when all the shelters are at capacity? As of 2020 some people still had not recovered from the impact of Hurricane Harvey.

An emergency operation plan (EOP) provides for how to prevent, mitigate, prepare, respond, and recover from potential natural disasters or emergencies. An EOP assigns responsibilities to individuals and determines how actions, internally and externally, will be coordinated. Using plain language in an EOP is important, so that the school district, fire department, police department, and other agencies are speaking the same language in an emergency. This minimizes the chance for miscommunication.

Woman talking on a phone

An EOP includes provisions for immediate notification to parents in circumstances involving a significant threat to the health or safety of students. This conveys the critical need for schools to have the most updated and current contact information for parents and guardians. When schools ask for this information at the beginning of the school year, it is not only for when your child is sick or has gotten in trouble. It is also for emergencies in which a guardian needs to be contacted quickly.

If you move, change work, home, or cell phone numbers, or have a new email address, please remember to inform the school so they can reach you in an emergency. It is also a best practice to write down a secondary person to contact in case you are unavailable or you left your cell phone at home that day. If the other parent is not in your child’s life, perhaps the secondary person on the contact form could be a trusted grandparent, aunt, or uncle. This contact information is not part of the EOP itself but is kept in a separate file by the school.

Because EOPs are important documents for schools to have, the Texas Legislature has tasked the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) with confirming that districts have an EOP that meets the safety and security requirements outlined in legislation. The TxSSC provides training for school district staff and open-enrollment charter school staff on the process of developing a high-quality EOP.

School districts are required to include plans for students with disabilities or impairments during a disaster or emergency situation, and these plans must be included in the district’s EOP. TEA has established guidelines, for districts to include in their EOPs, to ensure the safety and security of students and staff with disabilities or impairments. Per Texas Education Code, 37.1086(b), districts must follow these Guidelines for Multihazard Emergency Operations when adopting and implementing their EOP.

Please note that EOPs are not posted for public viewing to guard the school district or open-enrollment charter school from the exposure of its safety and security vulnerabilities.

What hazards do schools plan for?

Schools plan for a variety of natural and human-caused hazards which impact school districts, including communicable disease, severe weather, active threat, train derailment, and other hazards. The hazards your district includes in its emergency operations plan will vary based on geographic location and need. The purpose of the plan is to prevent, prepare, mitigate, respond, and recover from any potential natural disaster or emergency. One of the ways that schools plan for specific hazards is through training and drills. See 2.4 Standard Response Protocol and 2.5 Training and Drills for more information on responses and drills.

Below are three hazards which schools plan for and ways for you, as a parent, to support your child.

Communicable Disease

Four people wearing masks outside of a school

A communicable disease is an illness that can be transmitted from one organism to another either directly or from the surrounding environment. The outbreak may be limited to a single school, multiple schools, or it may impact on a larger scale, such as a national epidemic or a worldwide pandemic. COVID-19 is an example of a communicable disease; other examples include tuberculosis, influenza, or chickenpox. COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of having high quality plans in place for what to do in the case of a communicable disease outbreak.

Texas law requires that the local health department be notified when there are suspected cases of a “notifiable” or “reportable” communicable disease. Additionally, there are certain communicable diseases that require exclusion from school. Your child may be required to isolate and stay home from school until the exclusion period ends or written permission from a licensed physician is obtained. If your child is already at school when they are sick, a school can only isolate your child until you arrive to take them home.

The term “isolation” means the physical separation of a sick human to prevent the spread of a communicable disease. The term “quarantine” means the physical separation of a healthy human from others, as this person may be infected with a communicable disease but is not yet showing any symptoms. Both isolation and quarantine are mitigation measures used to prevent the spread of communicable disease, in this case, throughout the school. Quarantine is usually self-imposed or voluntary. However, local, state, and federal public health officials provide the authority to issue quarantine orders for a person, place, or geographic area to prevent the spread of a communicable disease. School districts do not have the authority to issue quarantine orders or to quarantine students.

What Should My Child Know?

Frequent hand washing is a common method to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. You are encouraged to talk with your child about proper personal hygiene and how it can reduce the spread of disease to others and themselves. Proper handwashing is 20-second handwashing with warm water and soap, ensuring that all parts of the hands are washed, including fingertips and between fingers. For younger children, teaching them to sing a song that adds up to the correct amount of time may help with hand washing procedures. When hand washing is not readily available, using hand sanitizer is a practical solution.

Other hygiene practices include avoiding touching of faces or rubbing of eyes, and not placing fingers, toys, pencils, or other items into mouths or noses. Children should also be aware to avoid the sharing of drinks or utensils, and the importance of coughing or sneezing into a tissue or elbow. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) additionally currently advises that people, aged 2 and above, wear face masks to control the spread of COVID-19 when physical distancing is not possible.

Severe Weather

Lightning strikes hit the ground during a storm

Severe weather such as thunderstorms, tornadoes, flash floods, hurricanes, and winter storms are the most common severe weather hazards in Texas. School districts conduct drills each school year to prepare for how to respond to a severe weather event. The drills that are typically used to practice for a severe weather event include “evacuation,” or “shelter in place." (See 2.4 Standard Response Protocol and 2.5 Training and Drills for more information on responses and drills.) Students may be evacuated from a school building for a fire, tornado, chemical release, active threat, flash flood, and other incidents. The Standard Reunification Method (SRM) outlines the procedures for reuniting parents with children. You are encouraged to learn the reunification location(s) where your children will be transported and cared for in an incident until they can be reunified with you.

School districts monitor local media outlets and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio to stay informed with the latest weather information. Districts may delay opening, conduct early releases, and cancel classes due to the probability or occurrence of severe weather. Students and staff in classrooms that are in portable buildings may be evacuated to the main school building.

The National Weather Service issues watches and warnings for severe weather. A watch means conditions are favorable for the development of a specific hazard(s). A warning means that a specific hazard (tornado, severe thunderstorm, flash flood) is imminent or is occurring within the warning area. With a warning, immediate actions need to be taken to protect life and property.

Proper planning, including having emergency kits, designating storm shelter locations within a school building or family residence, and conducting drills at school and home are effective tools to keep families and children safe. Another way you can be prepared is by purchasing a NOAA weather radio with battery power or battery backup to provide audible severe weather alerts and life-saving information when your family is sleeping late at night or you are without electricity.

You can also sign up for emergency alerts and notification programs provided by your school district, city, county, and regional agencies. Weather Emergency Alerts are now automatically broadcast over most cell phones and no subscription is required with most cell providers. Local television stations also provide free phone applications that will notify you of severe weather events in your area. If you live in areas prone to flooding, have a plan in place in case your child is unable to make it home from school or you are unable to make it home from work.

What Should My Child Know?

You are encouraged to talk with your child, using age and developmentally appropriate language, about having a healthy respect for weather, and what steps to take in certain weather conditions. For example, when there is lightning, let your child know to avoid taking shelter under a tree and instead move indoors as quickly as possible. Educate your driving-age child about the dangers of driving through low-water crossings, as cars could stall, or the water may be deeper than it appears.

In Texas, tornadoes, flash floods, and lightning are three hazards that can occur with little to no warning and the actions taken by adults and children at home, work, school, or play are literally life saving measures. It is also important that your child knows that schools have plans in place for weather emergencies, and that they should listen to, and follow school staff’s directions, for what steps to take.

Active Threat

A line of students practice a drill by walking in a straight line, with hands on each others' shoulders

An active threat is when one or more persons attempt to kill people in a populated or confined area. It is commonly referred to as an “active shooter,” however the threat may not be from a gun; it could be from a knife, explosive device, or other forms of threats.

One way that schools plan for this potential hazard is through conducting drills to prepare for how to respond to hazards or emergencies. The Standard Response Protocol of “Lockdown” is usually the response districts use in an active threat scenario. Students and staff learn what steps to take during an active threat by practicing drills such as the Lockdown drill. For example, they learn to move away from windows and to lock doors. See 2.4 Standard Response Protocol and 2.5 Training and Drills for more information on responses and drills.

Another way schools plan for this potential hazard is through the Safe and Supportive School Program (SSSP). The goal of the SSSP is to approach school safety from a comprehensive lens, utilizing school mental health and school safety research-based best practices to achieve physical and psychological safety in an educational environment. Districts must create and maintain a safe and supportive schools program team, which executes all SSSP functions, including school behavioral threat assessments. The team is responsible for collecting and analyzing harmful, threatening, and violent behavior to assess threat and risk levels and determine appropriate interventions. Every Texas public school must be served by a safe and supportive school program team. See 2.9 School Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management for more information on behavioral threat assessment and 3.1 Behavioral Health and Illness for more information on the Safe and Supportive School Program.

School districts also plan for this hazard through the safety and security audit process. The district’s safety and security committee is responsible for assessing the physical security of district buildings. An assessment geared toward active threats might include a focus on detection of suspicious persons, working conditions of existing hardware and alarm systems, and communication with first responders and parents. A school district peace officer or school resource officer must complete an active shooter response training program at least once in each four-year period.

See 2.1 School Safety and Security Audit and 2.10 School Safety and Security Committee for more information.

What Should My Child Know?

Reassure your child that measures have been taken to maintain their safety. Using age and developmentally appropriate language, explain that teachers, administrators, and first responders have planned for and trained on what to do to ensure their safety. Active threat safety measures for a real emergency are practiced with drills and your child’s attention and cooperation is very important during these drills. It is also important for your child to notify their teacher, counselor, principal, and/or law enforcement if they are aware of a threat or of potential violence.