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School Disaster Response Plan Overview (with Images)

Posted by Wayne Bennett on

When a major earthquake happens during school hours, the challenges will be overwhelming if you haven't prepared in advance.

Local rescuers will be stretched beyond their limits and you should not depend on their immediate response. You must have your own emergency response teams on-site ready. Your staff must be capable of organizing and carrying out emergency functions, such as evacuation, search & rescue, triage, disaster first aid, controlling small fires and shutting down utilities. 

In this post, we will cover your disaster response plan and implementation in the event of a major earthquake. For more detailed information, check out our complete earthquake preparedness guide and checklist for your school.

Before we begin...

Everyone must know how to DROP, COVER, and HOLD ON during an earthquake. 

By performing this skill, you will keep your staff safe, so they can perform their job as rescuers and not become victims. It will also reduce panic and running during the shaking. Allowing time for staff and students to review their training and what steps to take when the shaking stops.

Now, immediately after the shaking stops, your emergency response starts. Here's an overview for you to visualize how your disaster response plan will be implemented. 

Activating Your School Emergency Protocols

(1) Close the School. 

Have an assigned staff member(usually done by one of your custodian or security personnel) to secure the gates to the school immediately. Do not let students leave the campus until it's confirmed that it's safe, or if they have their parents/guardians to pick them up. 

Question: Why do you need to secure the school after an earthquake? 

This controls access from the outside by parents. You need to control the traffic flow of parents or it will add to the chaos of your release efforts. It also controls the egress of students from the campus, since they are your responsibility. It will be much safer on campus, where students are supervised by adults and all their immediate needs are being met. Major earthquakes can cause a lot of damage including down power line and gas leaks and uncontrolled traffic. Creating a very hazardous and dangerous place off campus.

(2) Shut-down Utilities. 

Have an assigned staff member(usually done by one or two of your custodian or security personnel) to shut off all utilities; gas, electricity and water. Do not turn on utilities until it's confirmed that there are no leaks.

Question: Why do you need to turn off utilities?

To prevent more life safety and property damage. Major earthquakes can cause gas and water leaks. Gas leaks can lead to explosions and fires. Water leaks along with electrical problems can lead to electrocutions and or fires. Just by shutting off your utilities, you have made your school a safer place.

(3) Evacuation 

Have all teachers follow the students to the assembly area. 

Question: What do you do if you have students injured and cannot walk?

If you are not able to help the student walk, you must perform the LifeSavers. This is a 15-30 second first aid response that will allow you to stabilize the victim while they wait for the search and rescue team to arrive. Once you arrive at the assembly area, you must report the victim who was left behind to the Assembly Team. 

(4) Assembly Area Roll Call. 

Have your Assembly team ready to do roll-call as students arrive in the assembly area. You also need to consider that there will be delays in transportation due to roadblocks - caused by earthquakes. So your school must be able to provide them with basic needs such as water, food and sanitation. See the list for all your school emergency supply list.

(5) Team up and Gear up.

While the assembly team is doing the roll call, the rest of your emergency teams will be gearing up for their assigned roles and starting their operations.

5.1 Incident Command Post. 

The Incident Commander and Group Supervisors will set up their Incident Command Post.

5.2 Medical Operations Area. 

The Medical Operations Group will be setting up their Triage and First Aid Areas, with supplies.

5.3 Search and Rescue. 

The Search & Rescue teams will be gearing up and getting ready for their rescue operation - waiting for room assignments from the Incident Commander.

5.4 Family Reunification Area. 

The Family Reunification will set up at the front of the school and organize for the release of the children to their parents.


A student is unconscious and the teacher knows trying to carry the child will only cause more damage to any existing injuries.

Immediate Response: LifeSavers. The teacher will perform the LifeSavers to stabilize any life threatening conditions for the victim before evacuating to the Assembly Area. 

As soon as the teacher arrives at the Assembly Area, he/she will report who and where the victim was left behind in the building. 

Assembly Team Supervisor reports this information to the Incident Commander. 

Incident Commander will inform the Search & Rescue Supervisor.

Search & Rescue Supervisor will assign a Team to rescue the victim. 

The Search & Rescue Team will begin their search and rescue of the victim and deliver the victim to the Medical Operations Area. 

Medical Operations will triage and provide first aid care to the victim and will inform the Incident Commander of the victim's status. 

Communication is a crucial part of the operation. Staff must know what their roles are and exactly what is expected of them in advance of a disaster. Get your school disaster response team structure here. 

Work with your planning team to come up with a realistic list of supplies that your teams will need in advance. See the list of supplies recommended for your school.

Group Supervisors must have training in the work group functions they are responsible for. Team members of Search & Rescue Team must have training Light Urban Search & Rescue, Medical Operations Group must have training in Triage and Disaster First Aid and the Utility Group must have training in managing Utilities and Fire Control.

Conduct regular earthquake drills (at least once a year) to get your students and staff trained on how to respond in a calm and positive way to reduce panic and injuries.

Do you have any questions?

Send your question to our contact page and leave your comments below.


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