How aptly timed this blog post is. I woke up at 3:20 AM August 23rd. Then I heard the rumble and my entire house bounced and rolled. Earthquakes are a part of my life. We were fine, being fifty miles from the epicenter. But these aren’t the only emergencies that color my world when I arrive at work. And today, I don’t know about you: but the images of Sandy Hook’s evacuation in 2012 have haunted me for a while. It wasn’t the reason for the evacuation, or even the fear on the faces of the parents, it was the idea of a full-scale evacuation of a campus.
All drills and emergencies are complex when you consider students with disabilities. Sometimes the loud noises or unfamiliar events cause students to have behaviors that are considerably unsafe especially when the stakes are high, like they were in Sandy Hook. And while a drill isn’t as serious as an actual emergency, even veterans have trouble with students with severe disabilities during a drill.
So what can a campus do?
First is, really, provide systems for a student during a drill. For students who need more practice, provide times of the day that they can get familiar with the route from specific areas of the school to a known safe spot. Even for students who will never be unaccompanied through their academic day, knowing that they need to think about getting to that spot and only that spot when they hear a fire alarm or an all call by the office is most important. For some students with more skills, a social story about what to do in an emergency, we’ve made several over the years; can help students who demonstrate anxiety. Realize that for some students, it will take longer to get them to a safe evacuation spot. The student could have been at PT and will need a two person lift to move from the floor or stander back to their chair. The student can have trouble navigating large fluid crowds.
Second, know your student. Have something for them in the emergency backpack: a fidget, a familiar book, or a food reinforcer that has been preapproved by the family. Sometimes there can be long stays if it is an unexpected event on campus.
Third, administration can help prepare potentially worried parents by making sure that all the parents know that their children will be safe and that safety is the priority of all the staff for all the students regardless of disability.
Lastly, make sure all staff know all special circumstances for students with disabilities and their evacuation. A few years ago, I had a student right before lunch. Another staff member was responsible for her feeding. But when a lunchtime fire alarm would ring, whatever I was doing, wherever I was, I had to book it across campus to the meeting place for her class before lunch. The staff member who was with her at lunch was to escort her to the spot and leave her with the classroom teacher, until I could arrive along the fire escape route. The staff member had other duties during fire alarms at lunch and was then able to help conduct a safe evacuation. The classroom teacher was able to check in that student and keep that student safe and account for the rest of the class at the same time.
Above all else, the one thing that can help during this time is your ability to stay calm and stay close to your students who need your help the most. Knowing if your student responds to high fives or will come with their hand being held is most important during the time that can rattle even the most calm veteran paraeducator.
While I have you here: ParaEducate has released a new book! We’re so excited to announce “The Bard In Stick Figures.” A collection of drawings and adapted text for Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet. We are continuing our extensive research on our History books.
Thank you all for your support with our publications.
Do you have a question for us? Find ParaEducate online here, here and here. ParaEducate is company interested in providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published weekly during the academic school year on Thursdays, unless a holiday. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.