Create A School Weather Safety Policy
While students are worrying about their homework, the big game, or graduation, your school staff is worried about maintaining a safe and secure environment for them.
In today’s day and age, there are a lot of scary things that can happen on school campuses and threaten the students you’re dedicated to teaching, coaching, and preparing for the “real world.”
One of those threats is severe weather. What makes severe weather such a tricky threat to mitigate is that you can’t control it; nobody can.
The only thing you can control is the way your school or district thinks about, prepares for, and takes action during dangerous weather conditions.
About This Guide
A comprehensive weather safety policy covers those areas and more, ensuring your school is prepared to handle all types of weather threats. In this guide, we’ll go over what an ideal weather safety policy looks like and give you tips for implementing a policy.
If you don’t have a weather safety policy at your school, this is a great place to start. This guide is also great for those who may have a weather safety policy but haven’t updated it in a while.
With the wide variety of threats to your students, staff, and visitors, it’s easy to overlook some threats. This weather safety policy guide ensures that you’re keeping weather top of mind and therefore doing your best to protect your campus from one of the most common disruptions to school activities.
So let’s dive in!
The Three Pillars of a Weather Safety Policy
The ideal weather safety policy at any institution starts with three pillars. These pillars are at the heart of an effective weather safety policy, no matter what your weather concerns are or what your campus looks like. They are:
We call these the API for short, but don’t worry–You don’t need to know how to code to use them at your school.
Get out a notebook or your existing weather safety plan and get ready to take notes that will help you protect everyone at your school from severe weather.
Pillar One: Analyze
Let’s start at the beginning. Before we can think about high wind gusts ruining graduation day or lightning suddenly splitting the sky on the day of the big game, we need to start at the beginning and analyze a few different things.
Assets and exposures
Activities and events
Threats posed by weather variables
Sanctioning body guidelines
Evacuation protocols and shelter locations#WeatherSafetyPolicy Step 1: Analyze: Assets and exposures, activities and events, threats posed by weather, sanctioning body guidelines, and evacuation protocols and shelters Click To Tweet
ASSETS AND EXPOSURES
The first things you should analyze are your assets and exposures. Ask yourself who are you trying to protect? When are they in danger?
ACTIVITIES AND EVENTS
This can always change depending on the activity or event that’s going on at your school. You should make a list of all the activities and events that put people outdoors. This could be athletic practices and games, outdoor classes, graduation, and even student pickup and drop-off. Sit down and do some thinking about when your students, staff, or visitors are outdoors. Maybe you have an open campus. That would mean students are at risk when moving to a class in another building.
THREATS POSED BY WEATHER VARIABLES
Then you can move onto threats posted by weather variables. What weather variables are you susceptible to? Almost everyone is susceptible to risks associated with thunderstorms including lightning, wind gusts, and hail. However, your specific location could see other disruptive weather variables like snow, heat, or even hurricanes. It might be helpful to talk with a meteorologist or refer to historical weather data from your area during this step of the analysis.
SANCTIONING BODY GUIDELINES
Next, it’s time to take a look at any sanctioning body guidelines. What guidelines do you have to follow on a school level? What guidelines do your sports programs have to follow? Some common guidelines schools have to follow relate to heat stress and heat acclimatization. Make sure your policy follows these guidelines so you can be compliant.
EVACUATION PROTOCOLS AND SHELTERS
Finally, we recommend analyzing evacuation protocols and shelter locations. Ask yourself what do you do during each threatening event? Where does everyone take shelter? Remember that if an event includes a high volume of people at your school that it may take longer for everyone to realize a severe weather threat is imminent. Therefore, you should consider adding time to alerting procedures.
When creating your draft, make sure you write everything down. It’s fine to include details, notes, or questions. This will help you craft the most effective policy. We also recommend having others at your school look over your analysis to ensure you didn’t miss anything.
Pillar Two: Plan
Now it’s time to pull everything into a practical plan. Planning includes three steps:
Developing a custom policy spreadsheet
Creating a plan of action
Developing an effective communication strategy#WeatherSafetyPolicy Step 2: Develop a custom spreadsheet, develop a plan of action, develop an effetive communication strategy Click To Tweet
CUSTOM POLICY SPREADSHEET
First, you should build a custom policy spreadsheet based on the result of your analysis. This will include separate policies depending on the type of outdoor activity, severe weather variable, season or month, and responsible parties.
For example, your athletic department could create policies for summer, fall, winter, and spring sports seasons for both practices and games. The policy could have different protocols for weather variables like lightning, high winds or wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) as well as call-outs to specific staff members on implementation responsibilities.
PLAN OF ACTION
Next, it’s time to develop a plan of action. An effective plan of action includes the following:
Forecasting and detection
Safety protocol during a severe weather event
Designated safe shelters
Chain of command
Plan of Action: Deep Dive
The first part of your plan should include what your key stakeholder groups should do when severe weather variables are in the forecast. Where are your forecasts or weather warnings coming from? This needs to be documented.
We also recommend having a plan for alerting procedure. What’s the best way for alerts to reach the right people on your campus? Maybe physical horn and strobe alerts are best. Maybe it’s text and email alerts to all staff. Or maybe it’s a combination of both. Whatever works for your school, make sure it’s written down in an alerting procedure plan so everyone knows what to expect.
Everyone should know what to do once those alerts come through. That’s where a safety protocol plan comes into play. This is an important part of your overall severe weather safety policy because it makes sure everyone is on the same page.
Once everyone knows severe weather is on the way, there needs to be a plan for what to do next. This might include seeking shelter. That’s why you need a safe shelter plan. In this plan, you should designate safe shelters and create resources like maps to help everyone find them in the event of a severe weather event.
The last plan you need is a chain of command plan. Who’s in charge of implementing the severe weather safety policy at your school? This should be written down. The National Weather Service Suggests choosing a Severe Weather Safety Coordinator for each school. This person may be a teacher or administrator with an interest in weather who is willing to implement these plans.
COMMUNICATE YOUR POLICY
Severe weather events can be frightening and chaotic. When you have comprehensive policies that are specific to your campus you ensure that everyone is on the same page. These policies will lead you through the stress and panic so that safety can be restored throughout your school.
Pillar Three: Implement
Now that you’ve analyzed and planned, it’s time to implement these detailed, effective severe weather safety policies. You may be wondering how to get these policies up and running at your school. Don’t worry, we have a little implementation checklist that you can follow:
Identify and install the technology or technologies to support your custom policy
Activate alerts against your established protocols
Disseminate policies and procedures
Communicate with external associations and emergency departments
Educate all parties about threats and safety protocol
Communicate the chain of command
Test, evaluate, and monitor#WeatherSafetyPolicy Step 3: Implement technology, alerts, procedures, communication, education, chain of command, and tests Click To Tweet
The first step in implementing your newly drafted severe weather safety policy is to decide which technologies are going to power it. When it comes to using weather safety solutions you want them to be as accurate as possible. That’s why we recommend you look for the following qualities when choosing weather safety tools:
Based on a hyperlocal network | Local to your specific area, not the nearest airport
Real-Time updates | Up-to-the-minute updates, not every 20 minutes or every hour. A lot can change in a little time!
Automated alerts | Push alerts, not pull alerts. Warnings that are automatically sent to you in your chosen alerting method so you can’t miss them
Next, you should set up alerts against your established protocols. Let’s take a look at a lightning policy for an athletic program at a school.
There are different rules depending on how far the lightning is from the school. When the lightning is 25 miles away from the school, the protocol consists of the key administrator receiving an email warning. Now he or she knows to monitor the situation.
When the lightning is 15 miles away from the school, the protocol consists of all key stakeholders receiving of text and email alerts. Now they know to monitor the direction of the storm and can prepare to stop a practice or game.
When the lightning is 10 miles away from the school, the protocol consists of activation of an outdoor horn and strobe weather siren system. Now everyone knows to halt outdoor activities and seek shelter.
POLICIES AND COMMUNICATION
Then you need to disseminate your policies and procedures with the rest of your internal school community. We recommend having a meeting with all staff to thoroughly review all aspects of the policy.
Then you can do something similar with the rest of the community. You can send notices home with students, include the policies in their assignment pads or planners, and set up annual meetings for parents to attend. We also recommend sharing your policy with referees and any other parties that work together with your school. Make sure you explain to everyone what is expected of them when severe weather becomes a threat.
It’s very important for both external and internal parties to understand the chain of command, so don’t forget that part while communicating about your new weather policy!
TEST, EVALUATE, MONITOR
Don’t forget to test! The new weather safety policy at your school may look great on paper, but it’s only through testing that we understand what it really looks like in the real world. Do some testing and if something doesn’t seem optimal, make changes until the plan is implemented smoothly.
Remember to reevaluate the policy at least on a yearly basis. While the severe weather events that impact your school aren’t likely to change, you may have overlooked a common weather variable. Sanctioning body guidelines are susceptible to change quite often, so make sure you’re always compliant with a yearly review of your severe weather safety policy.
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into crafting the perfect severe weather safety policy for your school. The three pillars (analyze, plan, implement) require a lot of thinking and input from all areas of a school, including teachers, athletic staff, and maintenance staff.
This isn’t something that can be done in a few minutes. It’s also not something that can be done and forgotten about. Like with most safety measures, a severe weather safety policy is a living, breathing plan that should evolve and be revisited every so often.
If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to weather technologies to use on your campus, you can get an idea of what’s out there with our Campus Weather Safety Buying Guide.