The goal of recovery from a disaster or traumatic event in a school is to restore the learning environment as soon as possible. Recovery begins immediately after response ends. Depending on the level of trauma associated with a school emergency event, the recovery process may last for several weeks or well into the future as the school and community establish a “new normal."
Four key elements of recovery
School staff involved in and leading the recovery effort should represent the districts' resources in these four areas.
Physical damages must be assessed to determine the cost and feasibility of repairing or replacing structures or contents. Ensuring the safety and usability of a building is the primary goal of physical and structural recovery. For a school, building and grounds personnel working with the district business/risk manager and insurance carrier would most likely perform this function.
Following a disaster, critical business functions of a school must be restored as soon as possible. Payroll systems, accounting and access to personnel and student data need to be available and operational. Most school districts keep electronic files for many of these functions and should have at least one current backup of their system. Unexpected expenditures and the need to manage grant funds or donations may result from the disaster or emergency. Additional staff may be required to handle these activities.
Fiscal or business recovery also involves planning for lines of succession for key administrators. Schools must have “continuity of operations plans” to ensure a smooth transition of authority and responsibility should top leadership be unable to function in their role due to a disaster or traumatic incident.
Restoring the structure and routine of learning is the goal of academic recovery. Returning to the normal school day enhances the healing process. While changes in routine may occur due to the disaster or emergency, staff, students, and families working through the event will create a “new normal.”
Planning for academic recovery involves personnel in curriculum, communications, technology, transportation, food service, health & safety, building and grounds, administration, and teaching. Plans for academic recovery involve short and long term considerations.
The goal of emotional recovery is to promote coping and resiliency for students, staff and their families following a disaster or traumatic event. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, both children and adults demonstrate a wide range of reactions after a catastrophic event including physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms. For some, adverse effects lessen with emotional support and the passage of time. Others are more deeply affected and experience longer-term consequences. It is important to know that these emotional reactions are normal responses to an abnormal event.
Planning for social/emotional recovery is the responsibility of student support staff (nurses, school social workers, counselors, school psychologists) working with teachers, school administrators, and key community mental health agencies. This planning involves establishing partnerships and developing agreements between the school and community agencies, providing training for staff and recommending policies for school board consideration. Community-based resources need to be identified before an emergency or disaster so they are available for families needing assistance.