K-12 Standard Reunification Method Toolkit
6.0 SRM Planning
Planning for a reunification involves creating documents geared toward a number of audiences. There is a District plan, individual school plans, and plans for first responders.
As with any school safety plan, the concept of plan evolution is ever-present. Events may occur or lessons may be learned that impact these roles or procedures. Emergency planners should also remain vigilant and familiarize themselves with emerging trends regarding school safety and crisis response management in particular.
Additionally, depending on the type of event, plans may suggest Districts ask law enforcement to help evaluate and secure evacuation locations prior to moving students.
The District Reunification Plan Has The Following Components:
- Planning team acknowledgment and contact information
- Contact information
- Incident Command structure
- Attendance procedures
- Local site floor plan
- Primary walking evacuation site floor plan
- Primary walking evacuation routes with emergency services routes
- Secondary walking evacuation site floor plan
- Secondary walking evacuation routes with emergency services routes
- Transport plan
- Primary bus evacuation site floor plan
- Primary bus evacuation routes
- School, district, law enforcement, fire, medical, legal and insurance acknowledgment sign-offs
- Emergency services routes
- Secondary bus evacuation site floor plan
- Secondary bus evacuation routes with emergency services routes
- (Optional tertiary bus site information)
- District/School “go kits”
- Notification procedures
- Media management
- Time of day contingencies
- Type of incident contingencies
- Reunification Setup roles and procedures
- Reunification Process roles and procedures
- Reunification Teardown roles and procedures
- Debriefing guidance
- Exercise schedule
- Special needs considerations
- Memorandums of Understanding
Floor Plans and Site Maps
It’s important to include on- and off-site floor plans in the reunification plan. If the off-site evacuation location is another school, it’s usually a reciprocal case. Given that condition, advance communication and distributed effort can result in both schools having each other’s floor plans.
There may be different versions of the floor plan for each reunification location.
- A floor plan with no annotation
- A floor plan annotating student locations during an on-site reunification
- A floor plan annotating both home and guest student locations during an off-site reunification. Occupancy limits should be noted on all rooms used during an off-site reunification.
- A floor plan annotating occupancy in the case of an off-site location not being a school
- A site map with traffic responsibilities
- A site map with the locations of students, check-in and reunification
In the event of criminal activity, witness interview rooms and crisis counselor rooms should be annotated.
In the event of law enforcement debriefing needs, it is strongly suggested that a separate facility be used. While it may initially appear expeditious to conduct law enforcement or SWAT debriefings at the reunification location, further consideration may reveal that recovery of all participants may be impacted by co-mingling first responders and civilians.
In mapping both walking and bus evacuation routes, it’s important to identify potential traffic issues and first responder ingress and egress paths. The routes from the nearest fire station and the routes to the nearest hospitals must be considered. Are walking paths crossing streets that will be used by first responders? Are there some predictable streets that would be common for parents to use?
It is also beneficial to determine the nature of the neighborhood around schools or other evacuation sites. Most states provide a mapping utility to locate sexual offenders. These maps often link to a database that provides name, address and photo of the convicted felon. It is important to identify these individuals and their proximity to the site. There are many documented cases of sexual predators using a crisis as an opportunity for sexual predation.
Route Map Checklist
These considerations should be included when mapping routes:
- Evacuation routes
- Incident Command Post locations
- Incoming district responder routes
- Incoming fire routes
- Incoming medical routes
- Outgoing medical routes
- Incoming parent routes
- Outgoing parent routes
- Staging area
- Landing zone
- Media staging
- Reunification signage locations
- Parent check-in location
- Possible road block sites
- Possible neighborhood evacuation perimeter
- Sexual offender locations
- Security perimeter
- Long perimeter
In the event of a reunification, parent/guardian notification is a necessary first step. Many schools or districts have mass notification systems to bulk call and/or text information to the parent population. It is imperative that accurate, factual information be delivered, starting with the crucial First Message. While it may seem comforting to tell parents that everyone is okay, or to minimize the number of injuries, this First Message not only begins the recovery process, it may be evidentiary for purposes of liability. Rather than saying "All students are safe," it is probably more accurate to report that, "We are in the process of establishing the safety status of all students and staff."
With the number of cell phones available to ever younger student populations, parents will, in all likelihood, be the first to arrive at the impacted school. Prepare for the fact that this may occur prior to the transmission of any official notification by the school or the district.
Students will call or text their parents/guardians immediately during a crisis, despite school policy prohibiting mobile phone use. Additionally, some schools may not have accurate contact information for all parents. It may be possible during a crisis to leverage this to the school's advantage by writing out reunification information for the students to text to their parents/guardians.
Prepared notification language is vital. While anything written in advance may not exactly fit the circumstances of any given crisis, it may provide a valuable advantage in the initial phase of a crisis. These statements can be vetted with the district public information officer and legal counsel as part of the planning process. Other notifications should be considered. Contacting district legal counsel, as well as the district's insurance providers, should be part of the notification process.
Special Needs Considerations
Schools are encouraging parents of students with special medication needs to consult their physicians about medication Go Kits. The medication Go Kit may include extra dosages that are not in the school medicine locker. If it’s determined that the school does create a medication Go Kit, security and chain of custody should be part of the plan and procedure.
Evacuation and reunification procedures should be practiced by all students. Ensure that students with disabilities are included in emergency drills and exercises and have equal access to building egress and reunification procedures.1, 2
Time Of Day Contingencies
Time of day may impact how a reunification evolves. A crisis at the end of the day, when buses are already on site, may actually require a controlled release reunification. It is not beneficial to immediately release students who have witnessed a traumatic incident, even though the buses are there and it’s the end of the school day. Mental health concerns might dictate a controlled release so that crisis counseling can be made available. This mandates a site plan that includes bus staging areas.
Parents Are Capable
There may be circumstances where some of the early arrival parents can be given a task. This is situational, but consider that, when given a job, parents are now helping with the crisis. This has important psychological benefits in addition to distributing labor. "Can you help set up this table?" or "Could you help me by placing these signs along Elm street?" Both are necessary tasks, and can enlist the parent into being part of the solution.
Go Kits For Reunification
Reunification Go Kits contain specialized items that are unique to the reunification process, such as caution tape, clip boards and pens, signage, and reunification cards). Consequently, these kits are different than school evacuation Go Kits. Since reunification is often managed by District personnel, reunification Go Kits aren't necessary at each school, rather the kits can stay with District response teams. Larger districts may have several kits, one at the district office and others in the trunks or backs of vehicles used by District responders. Smaller Districts may have only two kits. One at the District office, and one with the primary District responder. (Two is a suggested minimum: redundancy is important.) Inventories and locations should be audited once a quarter.
The Reunification Operation Kit
Reunification Operation Kits are made available on the I Love U Guys website, click the button below to access the kit resources.
1 Several laws address the equal rights of individuals with disabilities to access to programs and services, including students who may not be enrolled in special education services and school personnel with disabilities. These include:
- The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which references “our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.”
- The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, which states “states: “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States… shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance….”
- Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which protects children and adults against discrimination to the full range of state and local government services, programs, and activities including public schools
- In addition, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988 (as amended) prohibits discrimination during disaster relief and assistance activities. Section 308 of the Stafford Act was amended by the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 to extend those protections to include race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency, and economic status. The Stafford Act applies to: 1) FEMA services and operations, 2) Personnel carrying out Federal assistance functions, and 3) Other bodies participating in relief operations, including all private relief organizations, contractors, and volunteers.
2 The Texas School Safety Center has produced several documents which provide excellent reference:
- The Disability, Access & Functional Needs Integration Resource, which states that high quality EOPs and campus emergency plans are developed including 10 key nondiscrimination concepts, including “Providing services in integrated settings, such as reunification and recovery services, keeps parents and students connected to their support system and caregivers and avoids the need for different services or facilities” and “People with disabilities must be able to access and benefit from emergency programs, services, and activities equal to the general population.”
- Texas Unified School Safety and Security Standards, which states “The school district should integrate the needs of students, staff and visitors with disabilities and others with access and functional needs into all aspects of the district’s comprehensive emergency management program including planning, training, and drilling.” This standard references several Legal Citations and Best Practices including:
- The Texas Unified School Safety and Security Standards Glossary includes the following definitions:
- Access and Functional Needs: Persons who may have additional needs before, during and after an incident in functional areas, including but not limited to: maintaining independence, communication, transportation, supervision, and medical care. Individuals in need of additional response assistance may include those who have disabilities; are in special education programs; are from diverse cultures; have limited English proficiency or are non-English speaking; or are transportation disadvantaged.
- Disability: The term refers to a person (child or adult) who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; a person who has a history or record of such impairment; or a person who is perceived by others as having such impairment. The term “disability” has the same meaning as that used in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).