Proper Prior Planning Prevents Pretty Poor Performance Post-Problem
On August 2nd, there was an apparent gas explosion in one of the buildings on the campus of the Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis, Minnesota (like all those double n’s?). The explosion occurred on the “upper campus” in a building that was not being used for classes and was occupied only by construction workers. Nonetheless, the explosion forced the immediate closure of the academy.
Reports in the media and Twitter posts indicate that the police told parents where to go to be reunited with their children. This single tweet caused me concern. It implied that the academy did not have a reunification plan with primary and secondary reunification sites identified and a process in place for notifying parents and for controlling the reunification.
Taking a worst-case perspective, there may have been the following failures to plan:
- There was no reunification plan in place.
- No way to notify parents or guardians (including other people authorized to pick up children if needed).
- No predetermined reunification sites with appropriate material available and academy personnel responsible for defined roles and responsibilities.
- No process to guarantee that every child was reunified with the right parent, guardian or authorized adult.
- There was no pre-coordination with police or other first responders to ensure that the first responders knew what plans were in place and how the academy would respond to such an emergency (and similarly to ensure that the academy knew what the first responders would do). This kind of coordination eliminates confusion and contradictory directions from the academy and the first responders.
- The situation that actually developed was far outside the normal routine of the academy.
- Summer session
- Building under construction/repair/renovation
- Event impacting the entire campus
- The apparent absence of plans in such a situation makes it almost a certainty that some critical actions will be missed. Emergencies rarely occur at a convenient time and place.
The I Love You Guys Foundation has an excellent mantra for these situations:
- The cops own the crime
- The firemen own the flames
- The school owns the kids
It was and remains the responsibility of the school to ensure that every one of their students is definitively reunited with the right parent or guardian or other authorized adult and that such reunification is documented. (Documentation protects the school in a legal sense, but most importantly, it emphasizes the importance of the event and the discipline with which the reunification must be conducted.) All of that takes proper prior planning. Reunification events can easily become chaotic with everyone operating in an abnormal environment, anxious parents demanding their children NOW and over-stressed staff and faculty trying to control the situation – such chaos can only be avoided through planning and practicing those plans.
I don’t know if the Minnehaha Academy had a reunification plan and the police chief got out of his swim lane, but reunification following a problem is too important to be left to ad hoc responses. The school owns the kids…