Resources for Schools to Prepare for and Recover from Crisis

All of us who work in education have broken hearts and are haunted by the tragedy visited on the educators, students, and families of the Newtown Public School District and Sandy Hook Elementary School. Whenever a school experiences violence and the lives of children and adults are lost, we struggle to find words to express our emotions and explain how this could have happened.

Schools are among the safest places for children and adolescents in our country, and, in fact, crime in schools has been trending downward for more than a decade. Nationwide statistics, however, provide little solace when 20 first-graders and six adults are senselessly gunned down in a small town’s elementary school. Accounts from Sandy Hook indicate that the school’s heroic principal and her staff had safety measures in place and had practiced their emergency procedures. As a result, children’s lives were saved and an even greater tragedy was averted.

Not all tragedies can be prevented. But schools and districts need to be ready to handle crises, large and small, to keep our children and staff out of harm’s way and ready to learn and teach, and to recover from such tragedies should they occur. As we reflect on what happened last week in Connecticut, I want to share some resources from the U.S. Department of Education’s Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center that may be helpful to you and your team, now and in the future.

As hard as it is to talk among adults about such a tragedy, it can be even more difficult to talk with students and our own children. Helping Youth and Children Recover from Traumatic Events is a compilation of resources from the Department of Education, other federal agencies, and counseling experts. It is so important to give children the chance to talk, write, or draw to express their emotions. Please create the time and space for them to do that.

For school districts and schools, the Department also has several resources on Creating and Updating School Emergency Management Plans. If you do have an emergency plan in place, please review it, update it as necessary, and practice that plan regularly. Knowing what to do when faced with a crisis can be the difference between calm and chaos.

The Department of Education’s first priority is to help the Newtown community cope in the aftermath of this horrific event. In the days and weeks ahead, we will work with state and local officials, as well as Congress, to do everything in our power to help Newtown begin the long process of recovery.

As President Obama said, our country has suffered through mass shootings and gun deaths of young people too many times, in too many places. As a nation, we must find the courage and the conviction to take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies – now.

As districts and school leaders take steps to prevent and prepare for possible emergencies in their community, they have my full support and deepest gratitude for taking on this difficult yet necessary work.

Click here to read “Resources for Parents following Traumatic Events.”

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education. This post is adapted from a message he sent to all U.S. school districts on Dec. 17.


  1. More people are killed with hammers or knives or hands than with rifles of all kinds.

    Gun bans will not work; they only work to destroy of the fundamental rights of all Americans. We need to secure schools like we do airports, and courthouses. That will work.

  2. Safety in schools has been an issue only with persons with mental illnesses. I feel that children with mental illnesses need to have special conciderations and at least not be shoved under the carpet or put on “home” instruction. I feel that as educatiors we are forced to look at these troubled youth and wish they were not in our classrooms. We have strick guide lines of what we need to teach and how to teach it, but we have forgottten that not all children are alike or need to learn the same things. Many children in today’s society are being forced to learn exactly the same thing in a variety of ways however not all people need to learn the same things. We need variety.
    For example, at the middle school level we had an industrial arts class for several years. students learned to use sanders and computers and saws and other important equipment and many students strived the that class. However our students who were on the higher academic path did not like the hands on activities. So Why do we replace industrial arts for algebra?
    In every school there are students that seem “not to fit” in a regular classroom. e use to have special education classrooms that could help these children giving them life skills and a chance to learn about themselves. We need to get back teaching our children the life skills they lack and not try to force them into molds until the break out screaming. We can no longer pretend the trouble youths do not exist.
    Once we take the issues into plans and help these troubled people we will continue to see these horrible acts continue.

  3. In Hawaii, most of our schools are open and spread out…not a single building that could have an “airlock” through which all pass. Our campuses are open to the community. We do have 4 foot chain link fences around some, but these are certainly no deterent to those who want access to the campus. We also have open sidewalks that meet the streets fronting most schools. Our schools do practice lock down and we have had a few situations calling for its use, but so far we have not had to deal with the horrific occurances faced by others. There have been threats though. We feel very vulnerable, even here in the Aloha State.

  4. The US saftey standards are no dubt world acclaimed ones. The suggestions made by Brian are wonderful and essential.US will take meaningful action to prevent such tragedies in future because in my recent US visit I noticed an indomitable will power among the people to face any impaase sitiuation or tragedy. I think the crux of the problem in world wide events lies in our attitude to take measures only after the aftermath of tragedies. Unfortunately public memories are short and in long run we forget about the past lessions. We should try to remain conscious and grapple with the fact that the diabolic beastliness and fiendish behavior is spread everywhere. The tigers of fiends can not change its stripes nor the leopards its dots. It is like ‘the society is necessary but inevitably unsafe’ But there is nothing to worry about because still the world is surrounded by good, resourceful and intelligent people.And with the help of their valuable suggestions we can eliminate evil from the world. I have done my Ph D work on Joseph Conrad’s Novels(Title, Evil in the Novels of Joseph Conrad) and in my thesis I propounded an argument that evil is rooted in every man and civilization ,it is ubiquitous and all pervasive but if we strike the chord of Solidarity and Fidelity ( the ideas are as old as hills) and maintain Moral, Cultural and Civilizational “RESTRAINT” then surely there is no need of any set of laws to eliminate or curb evil.

  5. Every since back in the early 1900’s our city (Columbus, GA. (Muscogee County School District)has hired off-duty (Part-time) police security to walk the halls and premisis of our schools. If the law is broken (i.e drugs, weapons etc)by a student, the officer makes up the report and logs it in at Hq. to the juvenile office. So far it has worked extremely well.

  6. The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School reveals a number of challenges for all of us, but the first order of business is to pass sensible gun control laws that ban the ownership, sale, and use of assault weapons. Of course it’s not the only issue on the table, but it is a major one. Those who oppose sensible gun control — and those arguing that easy access to assault weapons isn’t a contributing factor in this tragedy — aren’t studying the issue carefully enough.

    Our thoughts and prayers are hollow if not connected to action on gun control.

  7. I believe that if one or more of the teachers was armed and trained,we would not have the high number of dead children and adults perhaps if the princable could have been alive if she could have shot the gun man instead of luanching for for him.I am very sorry and feel for all the victems and their families,but I believe that gun control is not going to solve anything.I do believe that movies and modern games are the door to the minds of are young and that while many young would not carry out there fantasies of living out the rules o0f these games and /or movies some could or do.

  8. I agree with all the above, but it seems that there is no money for this type of safety needs since Safe and Drug Free Schools , Crisis Management, and Title IV Monies are no longer avilable. Prior to 2009 there was grants ( mostly geared to large school districts) and a lot of training by US Dept. of Education. from all that training is there any training material left specfically to to training secreatrial staff and teachers and students? If there is how can a school request that material?
    Thank You
    C. Beltran
    Behavioral Health school Counselor/ Safety Coordinator
    Mescalero Apache School
    Mescalero, NM

  9. Suggestion for elementary school safety: 1. All students and visitors to enter via main entrances that are equipped with modern ‘air locks’. 2. No non-employee adults allowed into school during the regular mass admission student surges. Entrances monitored by school administration/security. 3. Parents should book appointments to speak to teachers or administrators. Parents only get into the airlocked entrance…inside door secured shut. Parent phones from entrance, is viewed, and is admitted by administration. 4. Airlocked entrance might have a system for releasing a ‘neutralizing gas’ in the event a gunman is in the airlocked entrance at the same time as students. 5. Glass in airlocked entrance to be bullet proof. 6. Windows on ground floors to be one-way viewing and bullet resistant. 7. General school alarm – lock all classroom and office doors.

    This suggestion is only for elementary schools to attemp to prevent an occurance such as the one that occurred at Newton, Conn. It would not work well for secondary schools because the gunman might be one of the students.

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