MACON, Ga. — Safe Havens International Inc., a nonprofit campus safety organization, is preparing to release a set of videos in the coming months that will offer crisis preparedness drills and exercises for the school bus environment.
The set, which will be available on DVD, will include the following:
• A facilitator instructional video to demonstrate why video tabletops and mental simulation exercises are effective at improving the performance of employees under life-and-death conditions.
• A facilitator instructional video to show how to use video tabletop scenarios to evaluate how well employees have been prepared to make critical decisions under stress.
• A facilitator instructional video to show how the videos can be used for training groups of staff.
• A video that covers tabletop scenarios depicting a wide range of school bus-related crises, such as fights, hostage situations, students reporting problems to the driver, fire in the engine compartment, unusual findings during pre-trip inspections, medical emergencies, angry parents approaching the bus and suspicious activity at bus stops.
Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, told SBF in an interview that the organization has been using the scenarios in the videos for training purposes at school districts and to evaluate their actual level of preparedness (i.e., how well the employees can make critical decisions on their own) compared to the districts’ written procedures.
Employees ranging from principals, teachers and receptionists to school bus drivers, custodians and personnel in the food service department are interviewed for the evaluation.
“We focus on the action steps that they would take during the most critical time period: the first 30 seconds. While some districts score higher than others, we are seeing roughly one missed life-and-death action step per scenario — for those that involve life-and-death decisions — such as calling 911 and implementing a lockdown,” Dorn said. “We have found this to be true in several of the top 10 largest school districts in the nation as well as in many large, mid-size and small school districts and nonpublic schools.”
Some of the most common weaknesses the Safe Havens staff has seen among school districts of all sizes and private schools are inadequate emergency preparedness plans — they do not provide guidance for specific categories of employees, such as the administrator, school bus drivers, teachers and custodians.
“Attempting to use the same plan component for all these personnel fails consistently because they perform different key actions for the same incident,” Dorn explained.
They have also found that some districts’ or schools’ emergency preparedness plans are overly concise: they are one- or two-page plans that attempt to simplify emergency actions too much, and therefore fail when tested.
Lack of appropriate staff training is another issue that Safe Havens has encountered in its assessments. An important instructional component, Dorn said, is training on pattern matching and recognition, mental simulation, controlled breathing and other approaches to improve human performance under crisis conditions, and this is often missing in the training curriculum.
If a district or school is not as prepared as it should be, Safe Havens works with officials to improve this. The organization’s reports are very detailed — one report for 25 schools last year ran to more than 2,500 pages.
Safe Havens is planning to release its crisis preparedness videos for the school bus environment in late November or early December. At this point, Dorn does not know the exact cost of the set, as it will be determined by the final production costs.
For more information about Safe Havens International and the services it provides, or to contact the organization, visit www.safehavensinternational.org.