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How Prepared Are Schools?

Suyapa Silva, Program Director for School Based Research, RTI International

How prepared are schools for emergencies? Dr. Silva discusses her NIJ-funded research that looked at whether or not federal guidelines were reaching schools; the levels of emergency preparedness at the state, district, and school level; what we can learn from well-prepared schools, both best practices and challenges.

SUYAPA SILVA: The goals of the study for school emergency preparedness were, first of all, to understand whether the guidelines at the federal level were reaching districts and schools. Number two, to understand the level of emergency preparedness across this country. And then number 3, to learn from well-prepared schools what are their best practices, what are their challenges, [and] what is making planning more challenging for them?

I think the unique contributions of this study are: First of all, that we were the first study to look at emergency preparedness across the country at both the state, district, and the school levels. We were able to study this from different levels, different perspectives.

We used various methods to conduct the study. At the state level, we did a review of all of the state Department of Education websites to look at what guidance they were offering. At the district level, we conducted a national survey of school districts. And at the school level, we interviewed well-prepared schools to learn more about best practices and challenges.

The major takeaways from our study were, first of all, that those federal guidelines are not making their way to districts in schools as we had hoped. Number two—that the level of emergency preparedness really varies by state and by [individual] characteristics. So larger states, that have larger districts, tend to have more guidelines available for schools. At the school level, we learned that even with well-prepared schools, there’s a real struggle between providing safety and security measures, and the academic priorities. And also, a struggle between making sure schools are safe and secure, but not making them feel like prisons. In general, there’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of pressure on the part of school administrators to do something about safety and security. And many of them are feeling this pressure, and just the general anxiety of the possibility of an emergency event at the school.

The NIJ funds, in particular for the CSSI that funded my project—the comprehensive safety initiative—was critical for us, my colleagues at RTI, and myself, to conduct research that we think has contributed to our knowledge of school safety.

Date Created: June 19, 2020