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Emergency preparedness in schools overseas

Living overseas offers children the opportunity to immerse themselves in local culture and diversify their learning opportunities. However, the overseas lifestyle also places people in environments where emergency support services that they are accustomed to may be quite different.

For families with children in local or international schools it is important to become familiar with how the schools have planned for and will respond to crisis situations. In most developed countries, local laws and government ensure that schools have emergency procedures in place. For international schools there is often an emergency response plan that is available in both the local language(s) and in English.

When a child is enrolled in a new school overseas it is a good idea to learn about the emergency plan that the school has in place for dealing with situations such as:

  • Fire
  • Natural disasters (floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes)
  • Civil unrest
  • Bomb threat
  • Kidnapping
  • Pandemic influenza

The list of potential crisis situations might be longer (or shorter) depending on the school’s location and any political situations or natural events in the country.

Communications

An increasingly common practice is for schools to include some of their emergency planning information as part of their websites. This can be particularly useful when parents are reviewing options for schools prior to a relocation or once they have arrived and simply wish to remain informed about how their child’s school will respond to a crisis. Other communication options for sharing information between parents and school administration include SMS alerts, email broadcasts, and phone trees.

Key questions to ask about school emergency preparedness

Here are some question parents can ask their child’s school administrators about emergency plans.

  1. What emergency planning information is available for parents?
  2. How often is the school’s emergency plan information updated?
  3. What are the most likely threats (man-made or natural) for the school?
  4. How often does the school conduct drills to prepare for the most likely threats?
  5. Are there any specific information resources that parents should be aware of?
  6. How will the school contact parents in the event of a major crisis (man-made or natural disaster)?
  7. What resources does the school have to care for children during a crisis?
  8. Are there any outside organizations (NGOs, diplomatic missions, etc.) that are prepared to assist the school?
  9. How can parents help prepare their children to respond to a crisis at school?
  10. What local resources (local, regional, national government) will assist the school in the event of a crisis?

Even though schools may have emergency plans, it makes sense for each household with school-age children to create their own family-specific emergency plan and include details for communications, meeting places, and having backup copies of important documents and contact information (phone numbers, addresses, email, etc.)

School Emergency Planning resources

Below are several resources that can assist with developing emergency response plans for both specific and varied crisis situations. Even though the prospect of dealing with an emergency can be unpleasant, it is more important to take some time to plan for crises so that both parents and children know what they should do and not be taken by surprise.

FEMA Emergency Management Guide for Business & Industry
http://www.fema.gov/business/guide/toc.shtm

Reducing Vulnerability of School Children to Earthquakes
http://www.hyogo.uncrd.or.jp/publication/pdf/Report/SESI%20Outcome/SESI%20Outcome%20all%20final.pdf

School Disaster Reduction & Readiness Checklist
http://sheltercentre.org/sites/default/files/15316_rrschooldrrchecklistv.4.pdf

Earthquakes and Schools
http://www.ncef.org/pubs/earthquakes.pdf

Disaster Prevention for Schools: Guidance for Education Sector Decision-Makers; Consultation Version
http://www.preventionweb.net/files/7344_DPforSchoolssm.pdf

Emergency Management for Schools (Government of Australia)
http://www.ema.gov.au/schools

Emergency Management Resource Guide
http://kycss.org/emp/Home/EmerRevCol.pdf
NOTE: This guide was created for a USA environment but many of the emergency management approaches outlined can be adapted to an overseas situation.

Marin Schools Model Emergency Management Plan
http://mcoeweb.marin.k12.ca.us/emerprep/plan.html

Resources to learn more about different countries and what risks might exist are available from various governments worldwide.

Country Fact Sheet resources

Country & Region Fact Sheets (Australian Government)
http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/fs/
Travel advice by Country (UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office)
http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/
International Travel Information (US Department of State)
http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_4965.html

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