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Establishing a High School Emergency-Response Team

Following a district-wide safety training session I recently hosted, a reporter from the local newspaper asked me, "What is the most important step toward creating an afterschool security program?"


Jay HammesJay Hammes

My response: "Develop a school emergency-response team."

The importance of establishing an emergency-response team at your high school cannot be overstated. Without a properly developed team, a school will struggle to consistently follow an emergency action plan and respond appropriately to incidents.

By developing an educated and focused group — one in which everyone knows his or her own responsibilities and is aware of the roles others play — you'll have a greater likelihood of achieving success and maintaining consistent team strength, even when a member leaves.


After a particularly scary post-game incident involving gunfire in my former school district, I started developing our emergency-response team by recruiting key leaders from the high school — reliable and respected individuals with a commitment to safety and pride in our programs. Convinced of the valuable work they would be doing, these leaders in turn recruited additional members of our team. Keep in mind that most athletic directors who oversee an emergency-response team are former coaches who understand the value of teamwork and are skilled at bringing out the best in people.

Our first meeting included ice cream cake and a $50 raffle, which was an effort on my part to boost enthusiasm and commitment. We also provided our team with free school apparel to indicate they were official members of the athletic department, and we publicly recognized and honored at halftime individuals who made contributions beyond the call of duty. These incentives go a long way to make up for the fact that most districts cannot afford to significantly pay members of their emergency-response teams, which average between 20 and 25 members. My school's team members earned about $10 per hour.

Subsequent team meetings should include the identification of existing and potential security problems and solutions. Here's a five-step process that we followed:

  1. 1. Make a list of potential issues — everything from inclement weather or a gas leak to a shooting or bomb explosion.
  2. 2. Place those potential incidents into one of four boxes: low probability/high consequence (i.e. active shooter); high probability/low consequence (unsupervised and unruly elementary or middle school students); low probability/low consequence (nonfunctioning light pole in the parking lot); and high probability/high consequence (lightning).
  3. 3. Develop response plans for events with high probability and the potential for major consequences first.
  4. 4. Walk through all plans as part of a training exercise. Pay particular attention to entrances and exits and discuss the need to place signage in new and different locations to direct traffic and keep fans from opposing schools from interacting with each other before, during and after games.
  5. 5. Assess your plans and responses. At our school's annual cookout every May, I asked all members to write down and submit their answers to the following question: "How can we be better?"

Our emergency-response team development meetings resulted in new standard operating procedures that included the creation of a human chain surrounding the playing surface at the end of each football and basketball game. By sending the nonverbal message that we would not tolerate rushing the field or court, we also established who was in control.

On the subject of control, all duties and assignments should be documented in checklist format, and a game commander — someone who will make the big decisions in the event of an emergency — should be determined early on, as well. Keep in mind that the event is not over until the last vehicle leaves the parking lot. Security personnel should be present until that time.

We created standards of success and rules, including:

  • Be on time, make sure all two-way radios are charged or loaded with fresh batteries, and do not use personal cell phones unless it's an emergency.
  • Dress in apparel that is clearly marked "security."
  • Always stand while working.
  • Strive to eliminate and ultimately prohibit loitering.
  • Scan an assigned area every 30 seconds.
  • Keep eyes open for fans who allow angry emotions to get the best of them.

In terms of security apparel, medical research suggests that the color yellow alerts the brain, which is why we have yellow school buses. Remember, security apparel isn't meant to be fashionable. Your team members must realize that this isn't about them, it's about maintaining a safer gameday environment.

As an emergency-response team, work to diffuse fan-anger issues at games, rather than correct them. We established a culture that demonstrated our desire to be the best high school security team in our conference. Over time, I realized that if I took care of the team, the team took care of the events. If you develop an emergency-response team that truly believes in establishing and enforcing best practices to achieve your safety and security goals, you will be successful.

Jay Hammes, CMAA, former high school athletic director, is president and founder of Safe Sports Zone (@SafeSportZone). He is also involved in leadership training courses for the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA).

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Athletic Business with the title "IN CASE OF EMERGENCY"

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