Evacuation Plan on your IEP
When I was in school, we regularly had nuclear drills. We either hid under our desks or ran to a shelter in the school’s basement. We’re fortunate. We laugh about it now.
We can laugh about it because first, nuclear war never happened. And second, the idea that being under a desk would protect us from nuclear weapons is laughable.
But what isn’t laughable–school shootings. They are happening on almost a daily basis here in America. As I write this, we have completed 5 months of the year and have had almost 100 shootings on school property. We average more than one mass shooting per day here (defined as 4 or more people shot in a single incident).
What is the plan? If there was an emergency at your school, what happens to your disabled child.
Fires, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes…it seems every part of the country is subject to some type of emergency. So between shootings and natural emergencies, there’s a lot to think about.
So, let’s think about it and talk about it.
Shooter Drills and your IEP
If your school does shooter drills, and the unfortunate truth is that most do, don’t ignore those emails that go out. Most districts send out notice as to when they are going to happen.
Ask to see the plan. Read it on the district website. This should be public information and if it’s not, ask to meet with your school board member or attend a school board meeting.
Read what happens in your shooter drills. Then, read the plan for what is supposed to happen if there is an actual event. And, weather emergencies too.
Read it, process it. Ok, now think about your child and their skills sets, lack of skill sets, and strengths. Where do they fit in?
Disability Considerations for Emergencies
Think about what your child needs, should an emergency happen.
- Are they ambulatory? If your child is non ambulatory, what is the plan?
- Do they pick up on social cues? If they see all their classmates running out a door or hiding under a desk, would they follow suit and do the same?
- If they were taken to another location during an emergency, can they communicate personal information? (like parent name, phone number)
- I have more on medications further down in this article. But, think about what your child cannot be without.
- During a crisis, there’s a lot of noise–alarms, sirens, yelling, screaming, power flickering, transformers exploding…. How will your child react?
- Think about your child and fight, flight or freeze. None of us can predict how we’ll react to an armed man shooting our classmates, but what do you think your child would do in any emergency situation?
- Once your child is included in crises, emergency responses and drills, what things does your child need to learn and prepare for a drill?
Adding Your Child’s Needs to Emergency Response Plans
Think about what your child would need during an emergency situation. Ask around, ask other parents. Visit your local firehouse or police station, ask them.
Police have protocols on what to do when they arrive on an active shooter scene. They may not be able to disclose all of the details of that to you, but chances are in the spirit of goodwill, a local cop would be willing to discuss your child’s specific situation with you.
They may offer insight as to things you need to ask for.
Now, many of you might be thinking:
- Why bother, schools don’t follow IEPs anyway.
- During a crisis, I am NOT going to dig up and read IEPs.
- If I do any of this, my child will perseverate on it and it will only increase their anxiety.
You know your child best. Some of us don’t want our kids to even see this stuff on TV because they will perseverate on it. Talk with your child’s medical and educational team, to see if you can brainstorm on ways to prepare them without upsetting them.
Yep, nothing is 100%.
However, at least get the disabled kids, and their emergency protocols, on emergency plans.
Then, you have to follow up and reinforce. There are several opportunities to do this.
- Before/after emergency drills, see if your child’s specific needs were thought of and the protocols followed. If not, re-educate the IEP team.
- Back to school nights, parent teacher conferences, IEP meetings–make sure this emergency information is on a one-sheet IEP to remind them. You don’t have to discuss it ad nauseum each time, but a quick reminder cannot hurt.
None of this is a guarantee, but we know that proper preparation works.
After tragic incidents, we always hear stories of love and heroism. Planting those seeds during practice drills will help students respond appropriately and know what to do if it happens to them.
It’s always best to have a plan.
What Evacuation Plan I am Asking for
So it came up on Facebook…”Like, what do I even ask for?
It is going to depend on the child, so I’ll use mine as an example.
My son is a very slow processor of information and requests. In the morning, if I walk into his room and say “Your bus is here” this is what happens.
- He looks up at me, usually for a few seconds.
- He then proceeds to stand up, but he lacks decent motor planning, so that takes a few seconds.
- Then, he scans the room for what special toy he wants to take to school. Add another few seconds.
- Finally, we are at the front door headed out to the van, maybe 20-30 seconds after my initial ask.
We don’t have that kind of time if there’s a shooter or a tornado or a pipeline explosion (a real concern in parts of my county).
And, sometimes when either me or his school team asks him to walk some place, he does what we call the “flop and drop.” He drops to the ground and refuses to budge. In every day situations, we give him choices. If there’s a shooter in the building, we do not have those same choices.
In such a situation, my son will require heavy, full on, assertive, physical prompting. In other words, grab him by the arm and drag his butt out of there. That’s what my son needs.
Sure, verbally console him and tell him what you’re doing along the way, I suppose. My guess is if all that was going on, he’s not going to be able to process verbal information anyway.
If he’s upset by this, I’ll work on fixing it later. I want him alive.
So, that is what I am asking for as part of a shooter plan or emergency drill. It then is my job to make sure that anyone on his IEP team or anyone who may be with him during the school day, knows this.
New staff hired? Great, I’ll introduce us and let them know.
So, request, in writing, that your child’s specific needs be added to emergency plans and practiced during training and drills.
Smaller child who uses a wheelchair? Pick them up and run like hell.
Child who usually requires choices and won’t want to be stuffed in a classroom bathroom with 20 other kids? Too bad. Grab and GO. We don’t have time to offer choices, transitions and support during this.
Again, I’m talking extreme situations–there’s a shooter in your building, a tornado headed toward the building, stuff like that.
For the drills–you prepare. “Hi Katelyn, if there was an actual tornado, I will just pick you up and carry you to the safety shelter. This is because we likely won’t be able to make it through the hallways with your wheelchair during a tornado.”
Verbally and physically walk them through the scenario so that hopefully them have some comfort and recall, if it actually has to happen.
And again, parents, it’s on you to keep this on your radar and remind your teams and staff who are with your kid each day.
Weather Emergencies and your IEP
Seven months. Imagine being away from your child for 7 months. Not knowing where they are or who they are with. That is how long it took for the last child to be reunited with their parents after Hurricane Katrina.
Hurricane season is usually June 1 to November 30. But, September is typically our busiest hurricane month. I know here in the mid-Atlantic, we got a bit complacent with these kinds of things, didn’t we?
We saw bad storms in the south, empathized with them but never thought it could happen here. And it did. Katrina was the catalyst for Save the Children to become a leader in helping American families prepare for disasters.
Because Superstorm Sandy hit such a densely populated area, we learned a lot from it. Like how unprepared we are for such storms! Do you have a plan for your family? If something hit your home in the middle of the night or the middle of the day, what is your reunification plan?
Does your school have a plan? Have you asked? For a moment, when I picture my defenseless, non-verbal 13-year-old lost in the middle of a disaster, my stomach tightens and my pulse races. What would we do? If another September 11 happened today, right here, right near you, are you ready?
Different Kids, Different Emergency Needs
Parenting a disabled child, we have extra responsibilities depending on our child’s disability. You should notify your state and local agencies if your child is a high priority rescue.
You can call them and ask. Some things that would make your child high priority would be needing oxygen or electricity for equipment, or frequent medication that is life-saving (seizures, diabetes).
Save the Children has the resources for you. You can use them at home and share with your school or daycare.
Here are the emergency plan resources you need to create one and add it to your IEP.
Emergency Action Plan Templates
Please note, this post is several years old. And, over time, Save the Children keeps changing the location of their links. I update it regularly, but if a link is not working, let me know.
Disaster and Emergency tips for Schools and Daycare
Planning how schools and parents will communicate can greatly facilitate the reunification process if you become separated from your child.
Emergency Information for IEP Teams
Families expect to be quickly notified when an emergency happens, but effective communication should also happen before and after an emergency.
These are things schools should do during an emergency. But, they are also conversation points for parents, in regards to your child and their specific needs. How does your IEP student fit into this?
- First, share information about your program’s emergency plan.
- Second, routinely update parent/guardian contact numbers.
- Third, plan how you will alert parents/guardians in an actual emergency.
- Telephone service may be disrupted during an emergency. Prepare a back-up plan, perhaps asking a local radio or television station to broadcast your program’s emergency status.
- Become familiar with the National Emergency Family Registry and Locator System and the National Emergency Child Locator Center and the American Red Cross systems. Both have been developed to help reunite families who are separated during disaster.
Parents, you need to take ownership in this. I can’t tell you how often schools cannot reach parents because they don’t have a valid number. If you get a new phone, change it EVERYWHERE.
Make an ICE card.
Once you’ve filled it out, print it, and you’re done! Put it in a safe spot that is with your child every day, such as a smaller pocket in their backpack or lunch box.
Make sure that school personnel are aware of it, and of course, encourage them to do it as well. Then, should anything happen….you’re one step closer to being reunited.
Disaster and Emergency Plan Templates and Checklists:
6 Questions for Parents to ask about School Shooter Drills and Disabled Students
Here are some parent concerns I’ve heard recently:
“My son has no idea what to do in an emergency since they used to go in the closet, but his class this year doesn’t have one….. all I can picture now is everyone running away and my son alone in the classroom crying in the corner.”
My son has ASD and said after they barricade the door they are trained to throw items at the shooter – he’s 11. It angers me beyond belief he has to do this. I’m going to meet with his team this week to discuss it. No wonder kids are stressed.
I have asked my son (who has high functioning autism) what procedures he is to follow. His perception is that they just go to a corner of the room, did not understand they need cellphones quiet as well as keeping others quiet if they freak out and that if a “teacher” knocks on the door, it’s safe to come out (without looking, questioning, etc.).
Nevertheless, more than 40 states require lockdown drills. And guess what? There’s no proof that they help and in fact can be harmful to our kids’ psyche. But thereyougo, we love our guns in this country, so we keep putting our kids through this so that we can love even more guns.
I was in the same camp too, I guess. Just kinda chugging along hoping it won’t happen here. I don’t think that we can wish for that anymore. Enough of our registered voters believe this is acceptable, or it wouldn’t be this way.
Do school shooter lockdown drills work?
- Do Schools’ ‘Active-Shooter’ Drills Prepare or Frighten?
- Why active shooter training didn’t help in the Florida high school shooting
First question for parents to ask: Must your child participate in drills? If you have reason to believe that this will be detrimental to their health, ask that they be exempted from it.
Shooter Lockdown drills and the disabled child.
This is something we need to think about. We cannot count on the school having had done it already.
As a parent, think of an emergency in your own home.
- carbon monoxide detector goes off
- flash flood
- fracking accident
- pipeline explosion
Now, think of your kids. All of them, but of course the ones who learn differently.
Now, think of what your disabled child needs in order to be safe and respond correctly in an emergency.
What Skills a Disabled Child May Need During an Emergency
- assistance evacuating (blind, wheelchair)
- understanding the importance and gravity of a situation (autism, IDD)
- unable to sit still, hide, be quiet
- inconsolable in a crisis
- unable to follow directions, even “Run!” (autism, IDD, physical disabilities)
- cannot follow multi-step directions “Everyone! Walk quickly to the office and no talking!”
- Does not get social cues, inherent learning, follow what everyone else is doing
Now, apply it to school.
How do they do for fire drills? I have had clients who have specific SDIs pertinent to fire drills.
Please tell me why everyone is fawning over this:
She should be included in the plan. Not an afterthought.
How to talk to your school about lockdown drills
First, I would email your school principal. Tell him that you want to speak with him/her about your disabled child and emergency drills. This is not an IEP meeting. There is no need to convene the IEP team.
Offer to meet with a small group, or help organize an information night for special needs parents. I would also strongly consider that this is handled at the district and/or school board level.
Can I add School Shooter Drills to the IEP?
Short answer-of course, yes. However, in an emergency, are staff going to be referring to IEPs? Will they even remember your child’s specific instructions? What if there is a sub that day or your child is not in their regular classroom?
I’d rather see it handled as a school district best practice. It ‘feels’ like there’d be better compliance that way.
Questions to Ask about School Shooter Drills
- Repeat from above: Must your child participate in drills? If you have reason to believe that this will be detrimental to their health, ask that they be exempted from it.
- Can they briefly describe their emergency plan to you?
- Where do the kids go? Where is the “meetup” point?
- How are parents/contacts contacted?
- If there was an emergency, where do they want parents to report? (they’re not going to allow you on campus)
- My child has “xyz disability” and cannot “name a skill that they need for this,” how is staff prepared for students like him? What can I do to help this process?
From there, let their answers guide your follow-up questions.
And please, please, please….contact your State and Federal legislators. This has to change.
WTF? Who DOES THIS—>Westchester School Leaves Behind Disabled Students in Fire Evacuation
And here is an update to that story: New Rochelle School District Slapped with $26 Million Dollar Federal Lawsuit for Failing to Evacuate Wheelchair-Enabled Student
Tips for preparing for school shooter lockdowns
I like this first link because it does include some free videos.
(And before you send me any email reminding me that 2A gives you the right to own a gun, I know. I’m in the camp who believes that we should read and heed all the words of 2A, not just the second part. Unfollow if you must, threatening to do so doesn’t change my opinion on the matter.)