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Risk in Context

6 Ways for Schools to Get Ready for a Pandemic

Posted by Richard Vohden October 18, 2018

When the next pandemic strikes, organizations across the board will need to take mitigating action to protect, as much as possible, both their people and operations. Schools are no exception. When the H1N1 influenza pandemic hit in 2009, almost 30% of all people who got sick with the flu in the US were 17 years or younger, underlining the need for K-12 entities to have plans they can put into motion when a pandemic strikes, especially if the disease is highly contagious.

Aside from needing to take care of their employees, schools also have the responsibility of protecting their students. Moreover, any decisions, like school closures, will impact parents. In view of their central role within communities, schools should consider the following six measures.

Establish a Health Communication Strategy

Schools should be immediately alerted of any health issues impacting their district — for example, a pandemic virus case within the community they serve. Further, schools should know what pandemic-related information needs to be reported to health authorities and make sure systems are in place to gather those details. Schools should also:

  • Understand the triggers required for health authorities to close down your school.
  • Know whether the property will be used as a surge facility for local health centers.
  • Monitor communications from national and local health authorities.

Step Up Hygiene Measures

Everyday processes should be further augmented during a pandemic. Starting points should be regular hand-washing, more frequent cleaning of surfaces, and making sure that both staff and students cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. Further, in case of closures due to a pandemic, schools might need to properly sanitize properties before reopening. If you outsource sanitation, make sure your vendor uses the proper procedures and materials needed during a pandemic.

Establish a Sick Leave Policy

Employees experiencing symptoms of a pandemic need to know they can remain home without being penalized. This policy should extend to students, and schools need to establish clear guidelines on how to deal with sick students. An isolation room might be required to keep symptomatic students separate until they are picked up.

Communicate with Staff and Families

It’s important to keep the lines of communication open and inform employees and parents of any developments. Establish in advance how this communication will take place and make sure you have everyone’s updated details before a pandemic hits.

Consider Psychological Assistance

Staff and students who either lost family or friends or were very sick themselves might benefit from psychological help. This can be especially helpful in badly impacted areas that suffered high mortality rates.

Carry Out an Annual Tabletop Exercise

Nobody knows when the next pandemic will strike, so it’s important that your preparedness plan is revised regularly. Consider collaborating with nearby schools and the local health department to look at how you will react to pandemics of different severity.

The next pandemic could be devastating for communities, making it essential for education institutions to hone their preparedness plans now and be ready for the worst.

Richard Vohden

Senior Vice President and Managing Consultant, Education and Public Entity Practice Leader, Marsh Risk Consulting