In times of disaster, schools can help

It’s hard to watch the news out of Baton Rouge, La. and not feel echoes of Hurricane Katrina.

By the end of last week nearly 30,000 people had been rescued from their homes, and at least 13 people had lost their lives, according to CNN.

Brad Kieserman, vice president of disaster services operations and logistics for the American Red Cross, called the flooding the worst natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy, and predicted at least $30 million in damages. With continued rains and tons of clean up ahead, those numbers are only expected to climb.

Many of the schools in southern Louisiana were closed, as was the State Department of Education, just as the school year was beginning, according to the Times-Picayune. And, sadly, it appears that many schools also felt the full impact of the torrent. In East Baton Rouge, for instance, at least 17 of the 73 school buildings suffered significant damage, as Ed Week reports.

While the full extent of the damage is still unknown, area schools will have to act fast to determine a path forward so students don’t fall behind. At the same time, schools will have to step up to support their local communities and help students and families pick up their lives.

As we share our thoughts and support for Southern Louisiana’s recovery, there are lessons we can take away to ensure schools support their communities before, during, and after disaster strikes.

Be prepared
Devastation like Baton Rouge’s comes once in a lifetime. Many of the homes now under water are outside of the traditional floodplain, and sadly did not have flood insurance. In other words, it’s no easy task to prepare for such an unlikely event.

But, as much as possible, districts need to have a strategy in place for dealing with natural disasters. That includes a plan for making school closure decisions, a robust system to share the latest information, and contingency plans for when school buildings are damaged.

Include your community in drafting and implementing these plans, and don’t be afraid to adapt your strategy when necessary.

Communicate constantly
The worst thing you can do in a disaster is leave your community in the dark.

Maintain a constant dialogue with your families, employees, and other stakeholders. That means making announcements in as many ways as possible. Whether it’s email, social media, face-to-face conversations, or other methods — make sure you’re reaching your community members where they are. And give them an easy way to reach you.

Yes, you’ll need to make many important announcements, but it’s just as important that you listen. In the chaos of a disaster, your community may have more accurate information than you. And, when families need your help, it should be easy for them to ask for it.

Become community centers
Whenever feasible, transform your schools into central locations that can support recovery efforts. Community schools can provide services beyond academics.

That may mean opening your doors to displaced families, or hosting blood drives on your campus. It may simply mean providing emotional support to families.

You can also be a virtual communication center for families by making sure questions you receive get answered by the right authorities, and sharing that information publicly.

Provide ongoing support
Even after the flood waters recede, the pain students and families face will remain.

After a disaster, continue engaging with students and parents online and in-person. Provide social and emotional support services. And, help your community move forward through an open and honest conversation.

Do you have a plan in place to support your community when a disaster strikes? Tell us in the comments.

Want to make sure your community is updated when it matters most? Ensure they get the critical alerts they need.

Author: Todd Kominiak

Todd Kominiak is Managing Editor of TrustED.

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