In the wake of recent weather events, we’d like to take a look at safety in school nutrition. For this article, we’ll outline five quick things you can do to help prepare your program, operations, and staff for a natural disaster. Although disaster planning is a major endeavor and there are many hazards and risks to take into consideration, this should give you a starting point to begin thinking safety. We’ll also provide a slew of emergency resources and additional content.

When it comes to preparing for a natural disaster, here’s the five-point plan:

  1. Build a Team

The first step in creating an emergency preparedness plan is building your emergency preparedness team. Consider including school administrators, caregivers, parents, local emergency responders (police, firefighters, EMTs), community partners and anyone else who is willing to participate and can provide valuable input in developing your plan.

  1. Identify Risks

Once you’ve established your team, get together to analyze and identify any potential risks in your program. They can usually be broken down into the following categories:

  • Weather – hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, extreme heat, winter storms, earthquakes, etc.
  • Industry – hazardous materials spills, nuclear plant emergency, dam/levee breach, contamination, etc.
  • Health – influenza (flu) pandemics, disease outbreak, and food recalls
  • Acts of violence – terrorism, intruders (distraught parent, staff or student), protests and political unrest
  1. Create a Plan

After identifying the potential risks that exist in your program, it’s now time to decide how to respond to each emergency scenario. Most plans call for either an evacuation of some sort or a shelter-in-place or “lockdown” approach. In this phase, your plan should always cover the “who, what, when, where, how and why” of each scenario. In order to prevent panic, you can also use code words to identify scenarios in real life. For example: code black for intruders, code red for fire, code blue for a gas leak, etc.

  1. Prepare Supplies

Gather any supplies you might need for various disaster types and have these emergency response kits prepared before disaster strikes. Determine what needs to be in the kit based on your emergency scenario assessments. Don’t forget to include any important documentation such as rosters, medical release forms or parents’ contact information.

  1. Practice

Practice makes perfect! Educate staff and students on how to respond to the various emergency event scenarios. If you can, publish plans and post them throughout your facility. This is key; when disaster does strike, people, in general, are less likely to panic if they have routinely practiced what needs to be done in the event of an emergency.

Hopefully, this provides a quick starting point for you to begin thinking safety in your school nutrition program. Be sure to checkout the USDA disaster assistance page. Here you can learn more about the resources provided by the USDA following a natural disaster.