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School Earthquake Preparedness Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide

Posted by Wayne Bennett on

If a large earthquake strikes during school hours, it could be a disaster.

BUT… if your school prepares in advance it can prevent an emergency situation from going from bad to worse. With advanced preparation, you will be able to respond to the situation with confidence and effectiveness.

Questions like, what teams should the site have?

How many persons should be on each team?

What should the organizational structure look like?

What supplies are essential and how much of each item do the teams and site need to support the rescue effort and the staff and children?

Check out our School Earthquake Preparedness Guide and Checklist, I've put together all the important things that matter to a school and help you to create a real world plan and response to an emergency. 

So in this post, I will cover all the essential steps for earthquake preparedness using my real world experience and some common sense.

And just to let you know, unlike other references that you’ll find online, this guide is NOT a product of just research, it’s from my 25 years of training school staff and 30 years of service as a firefighter responding to emergencies.

So, what I’m about share with you is a simple but realistic and a direct to the point approach.

Planning: Organizational Structure or Who’s going to do what?

Team structure is the first step in your earthquake preparedness planning for command and control of your emergency.  This is where I see the individual school site becoming overwhelmed by trying to fulfill the Incident Command Structure from the perspective of the school districts Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

The school site Incident Command must follow the Standard Emergency Management System (SEMS) but it needs to be streamlined to accommodate the limited staffing. Most jobs at the individual school site must be at the operations level, i.e. search & rescue, medical, family reunification, assembly area, etc.

You’re probably implementing earthquake drills in your school, so that everyone knows the “Drop, Cover, and Hold on” and the evacuation route. And you have probably done some mitigation steps to decrease damage and injuries in your school.

But in the event of a massive earthquake, it’s inevitable that people will become injured and we can’t guarantee how our buildings will perform. You should still expect that there will a number of injured and trapped students. Since a professional emergency response may be delayed, a trained cadre of staff becoming an effective group of spontaneous rescuers will keep your emergency from turning into a disaster.

People will take action. you want that action to be appropriate and safe for all involved.

Below is an example of a school response plan.

The principal and key office personnel staff – the Incident Command Post (ICP).

The Group Supervisors from each work group report directly to the Command Post.

The Team Leaders report directly to their Group Supervisor and the Team Members report directly to the Team Leader.

This simple but structured chain of command will prevent chaos from a lack of communication.

Here’s an example of an ideal Emergency Response Team Structure for a school with a population of 900.

Team Structure 900 q1wqnk

If you want to know the ideal team structure for your school, I highly recommend that you generate your report using our Disaster Preparedness Calculator for Schools.

Training: Search & Rescue, Triage, Disaster First Aid and Fire Control

Once you have your emergency response team set, it’s time to provide them the skills and the confidence to carry out the plan and their function.


Your on-site search & rescue team(s) needs to be trained in:

  • Search techniques
  • Forcible entry skills
  • Proper methods of removal of trapped and non-trapped victims
  • Using various lifts and carries

Watch a sneak peek video below of Cribbing Rescue Training from Captain Wayne Bennett On-site Disaster Survival Skills for Schools and Business. 


In a large-scale disaster, you may be confronted with an overwhelming number of injured victims.

How will you have to decide who to treat first? What injuries are the most important? How will you manage the chaos? Your Triage Team needs to learn how to manage this seemingly impossible scene by using a system called Triage, a French word meaning “to sort”. This system is used today by our paramedics and firefighters to sort victims and prioritize their treatment during mass casualty incidents.



Your First Aid team(s) need to have the basic precepts of emergency medical care with an emphasis on practical information that will be relevant when most other resources are not available.

Here’s a first aid video excerpt from Captain Wayne Bennett’s Disaster Survival Skills Workshop.


Your utility team has a very important task, they need to know how to control the utilities and prevent further damage to your site. This is dangerous and certainly not for the untrained. This is why this training is so important. It teaches the basics of fire behavior, fire type and recognition.


To maximize your budget, you should purchase supplies in the order of priority.  I highly recommend that you use our Disaster Preparedness Calculator for Schools to get the right number items for your school and emergency response teams.

If you want to gather supplies yourself, here are our minimum recommendations:

    Command Post Barricade Tape, Public Information Barricade Tape, Staging Area Barricade Tape, 2-Commander Walkie-Talkies, Bull Horn, FM-Weather-Shortwave Radio with Light, National Incident Management System (NIMS) Guide, Incident Command and Triage Book.
    (Medical, Search & Rescue, Assembly, Family Re-Unification): Vests, Ponchos, Clipboards, Golf Pencils, Light Sticks 12 hr.
    Triage Tarps , Triage Forms for patient evaluation, body identification, injury assessment with triage instructions.
    Hard hat, goggles, vest, dust masks, leather gloves, knee pads, marker, pry bar, door wedges, 4 in 1 utility shutoff, window hammer, duct tape, search rope, flashlight, light sticks, hazard tape, drinking water.
    Hard hat, Goggles, Dust Masks, Vest, Gloves and Knee Pads.
    Stretchers, trauma dressings, 4×4 gauze pads, triangular dressings, rolls of gauze, leg splints, arm splints, burn gel, cold packs, sterile water packs, first aid tape, duct tape, emergency thermal blankets, paramedic scissors, tweezers, vinyl gloves, antiseptic wipes, antimicrobial wipes,  band-aids.
    4-in-1 Utility Gas Shutoff Tool
    Drinking water, emergency food pack, and sanitation kit (privacy shelter and porta potty)


Notice that all steps are correlated to each other.

First, you need to build your emergency response teams.

Second, the team needs to acquire the skills and confidence to carry out their function.

And third, you need to provide them with supplies to support the teams to safely perform their duties.

These are the foundational steps for an effective disaster preparedness response.


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