Aspects of Crisis Management Plans

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Introduction

Available education scholarship underscores the need for schools to have crisis management plans to deal with lockdowns, natural disasters, and other unprecedented events as they occur in school settings (Clarke, Embury, Jones, & Yssel, 2014). The need to put in place functional plans is further reinforced by the fact that American schools are entrusted to avail secure and healthy learning environments for around 55 million elementary and middle school students each school day (Dwyer, Osher, Maughan, Tuck, & Patrick, 2015), and that national and international events targeting schools have increased in number in recent years, effectively causing these institutions to review their readiness to deal with security and safety situations (Estep, 2013). School counselors are important staff who should not only interact frequently in their support roles for the teaching fraternity, students, families and other school employees, but also take part in the management of crises with the view to promoting a safe and caring school climate (Dwyer et al., 2015). The present paper is focused on analyzing a crisis management plan of a middle-level school and making recommendations for improvement based on an interview conducted with the school counselor.

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Background

The interviewee was a professional counselor with skills and competencies in assisting students to achieve progress in academics, mentoring them on their personal and social development, guiding them on their career trajectories, and ensuring that they adjust to the needs and expectations of the society. The interviewee not only demonstrated adequate leadership and collaboration skills to deal with crisis situations, but was also competent in creating a supportive environment for the evacuation of students with disabilities and counseling teachers with psychological issues. As indicated by Robertson, Lloyd-Hazlett, Zambrano, and McClendon (2016), school counselors should have the capacity to support the educational, career, personal and social development of students, including providing guidance and counseling services through program curriculum and individual planning.

Members and Roles

The interview findings demonstrate that the crisis response team is interdisciplinary in composition. Specifically, the team consists of the principal, the school counselor, the security guard, the head secretary, the social worker, and the nursing professional. Although these members work as a team, the principal often carries responsibilities for the management and administration of the school’s crisis management plan, while the school counselor is charged with the responsibilities of supporting the career, personal and personal development of students, evacuating students with disabilities during a crisis, as well as providing guidance and counseling to students and members of staff. The security guard is responsible for clearing hallways and making sure that every floor is secure and safe, while the head secretary oversees attendance of members during crisis meetings and other administrative duties as delegated by the principal. Lastly, the nurse professional assists with medical- or health-related issues, while the social worker acts as a link between the school and the larger community. An analysis of interview responses shows that the school counselor interacts with internal stakeholders (students, teachers, and other members of staff) through targeted one-on-one communications that have proved effective in providing leadership to motivate and inspire this set of stakeholders. The counselor interacts with external stakeholders (parents, community members, district school officials, and the business community) through inter-association dialogue and collaboration, support networks, and local civic groups.

Protocols in Place

In crisis management planning, protocols denote official procedures or systems that govern how various crisis situations are handled with the view to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of students and other members of staff (Clarke et al., 2014). An analysis of interview responses demonstrates that the school is put on lockdown in a crisis situation to ensure that evacuation and/or assistance efforts proceed in a smooth way. Additionally, parents must be aware of issues affecting their students, and are required to sign a consent form in case of student referral. The school has established collaborative relationships with two health facilities where students and their families are referred for assistance. Furthermore, the plan has established different protocols for every drill, with team members required to discuss them during crisis meetings. Students with disabilities are required to leave the building first in case of an emergency, which is consistent with the regulations set by agencies such as the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Program (CACREP) (Robertson et al., 2016). Lastly, all students are required to be relocated to a nearby church in case of an emergency. Besides, every school floor is equipped with different exits to ease evacuation efforts.

Approaches to Improve

The crisis management plan follows recommendations for the best practice documented in the literature, particularly in terms of maintaining an interdisciplinary composition (Dwyer et al., 2015), using official procedures and systems to enhance the safety of students and other staff members during a crisis (Clarke et al., 2014), making use of collaboration and teamwork skills to create a supportive environment for the effective handling of crisis situations (Goodman-Scott, 2015), and using proactive leadership strategies to engage students and other stakeholders in dealing with a crisis (Mullen & Labbie, 2016). However, to mitigate the weakness of the plan, the school needs to take measures to review it on a regular basis with the view to enhancing its implementation. Such measures include developing timelines for the review process, putting in place checks and balances to ensure problems are identified and addressed, using benchmarks and best practices to ensure the effectiveness of the plan, and facilitating the sharing of information across the team so that problem areas can be identified and reviewed regularly (Young & Bryan, 2015). An analysis of the interview responses shows that the strength of the plan is embedded in the capacity of members to work as a team and also to collaborate in solving issues. Teamwork and collaboration can be enhanced further by encouraging shared leadership in the emergency response team, developing the capacity of its members to communicate more effectively and understand the roles of others in the team, and creating more awareness on group norms and conflict resolution strategies (Zalaquett & Chatters, 2012).

Demands

Professional crisis workers engaged in school contexts are usually trained mental health professionals or counselors responsible for counseling students and members of staff in danger of harming themselves or others, providing support to students and staff members undergoing acute crises, and helping students dealing with distressing issues such as social and personal challenges (Dwyer et al., 2015). One of the demands of this group of professionals is to conduct one-on-one assessments with students and staff members in their natural settings with the view to determining their specific needs. Professional crisis workers are also expected to provide guidance and counseling to students and other members of staff working at the school in order to help them deal with the immediate aftermath of a crisis situation through, for example, regaining a sense of safety, returning to their normal level of functioning, and preventing the initiation of psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (Robertson et al., 2016; Zalaquett & Chatters, 2012). Another demand relates to advocacy work, whereby professional crisis workers engage in the provision of temporary typologies of advocacy to help students and staff members within a school setting to meet their immediate needs and regain sufficient levels of functioning immediately after a crisis situation (Gonzalez, 2017). Lastly, professional crisis workers are required to provide accurate and timely referrals to students and members of staff in crisis situations upon assessing their needs and providing brief counseling.

Questions for Unit 3

Crisis Management Plan

There is a comprehensive management plan in my school. I was involved in the modification of the plan, whereby I proposed the consideration of ensuring that the institution provides a welcoming and safer environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) students through creating awareness to reduce school-based bullying and victimization, counseling this group of the population to minimize suicidal thoughts and attempts, as well as guiding them on healthy sexual behaviors. Available literature demonstrates that LGBTQ students are at a high risk of school-based bullying and victimization due to their sexual orientation (Singh & Kosciw, 2017), hence the proposed consideration.

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Crisis Management Team and Annual Reviews

There is a crisis management team comprising the principal and his deputy, senior discipline heads, the executive director of student affairs, the head of security, the health services coordinator, the athletics director, the school counselor, and the maintenance and grounds supervisor. The principal and his deputy are charged with the management and administrative duties of the crisis response team, while the executive director of student affairs and senior discipline heads are charged with the responsibilities of providing supportive and operational services for students and members of staff, coordinating all communications including those with the media, and initiating crisis and/or communication plans of other school departments as required in the event of an emergency. The head of security and the maintenance and grounds supervisor oversee all issues relating to the safety and security of students and staff members, including evacuation efforts. Lastly, the athletics director is charged with the responsibility of overseeing the safety of students during games and other extracurricular activities, while the school counselor not only guides but also counsels students on a wide range of issues that may occur during a crisis. The crisis management team meets biannually and undertakes adjustments of the plan in areas deemed necessary.

Situations Requiring Use of the Plan and Protocols

The plan is used at least once per month to solve student-related issues that often threaten to evolve into real crisis situations. These issues include school bullying and victimization, student discipline problems, minor and major accidents involving students, and student rivalry. The school connects students and their families to additional resources through established standards and regulations. These protocols include (1) ensuring suitable resources are available to the school for the preparation, the response, and the recovery efforts that may arise as a result of a crisis situation, (2) ensuring members who bear responsibility for the safety of students and staff members have completed the associated appropriate training to be compliant with regulations set out by various agencies, (3) consulting with the larger community and local agencies to identify external resources available, and (4) making emergency response training opportunities available to students via internal and external training classes.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The strengths of the existing plan include undertaking biannual reviews to adjust components according to needs, clear delegation of duties and responsibilities, clear channels of communicating and collaborating, and capacity of members to exercise shared leadership and decision making. In weaknesses, it is evident that the school counselor’s roles are not well defined and the plan lacks the element of parent education about the issues that affect their children in school.

Demands

The demands placed on a school counselor during a crisis are numerous as they must assess the students, counsel them and other members of staff to prevent possible psychological difficulties, advocate for their rights and needs, as well as refer them to health facilities and/or psychiatric centers to receive medical help. However, it is possible for a school counselor to successfully fulfill these demands upon adequate exposure to proper training and education.

Closing Comments and Recommendations

Overall, it is important to ensure that the appropriate people are educated about the plan by carefully assessing the personalities and emotions of potential members to ensure that only those who are ready and willing to face the stress and unexpected situations associated with crisis management are educated, evaluating the communication and coordination skills of potential members, and judging potential team members based on their capacity to engender confidence and trust (Dwyer et al., 2015). Additionally, procedures in the crisis management plan are tailored to different circumstances because each need is unique and requires a focused effort to address the crisis situation. Lastly, it is recommended that counselors-in-training expand their skills and competencies in dealing with diverse circumstances through education, training, and exposure to real-life situations. Additionally, trainee counselors need to focus more on how to deal with the effects of current crisis dynamics such as terrorism and school shootings.

References

Clarke, L.S., Embury, D.C., Jones, R.E., & Yssel, N. (2014). Supporting students with disabilities during school crises: A teacher’s guide. Teaching Exceptional Children, 46(6), 169-178.

Dwyer, K.P., Osher, D., Maughan, E.D., Tuck, C., & Patrick, K. (2015). Team crisis: School psychologists and nurses working together. Psychology in the Schools, 52(7), 702-713.

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Estep, S. (2013). Crisis planning: Building enduring school-community relationships. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 79(3), 13-20. Web.

Gonzalez, M. (2017). Advocacy for and with LGBT students: An examination of high school counselor experiences. Professional School Counseling, 20(1a), 38-46.

Goodman-Scott, E. (2015). School counselors’ perceptions of their academic preparedness and job activities. Counselor Education & Supervision, 54(1), 57-67.

Mullen, P.R., & Lambie, G.W. (2016). The contribution of school counselors’ self-efficacy to their programmatic service delivery. Psychology in the Schools, 53(3), 306-320.

Robertson, D.L., Lloyd-Hazlett, J., Zambrano, E., & McClendon, L. (2016). Program directors’ perceptions of school counselor roles. Journal of Professional Counseling: Practice, Theory & Research, 43(2), 1-13. Web.

Singh, A.A., & Kosciw, J.G. (2017). School counselors transforming schools for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) students. Professional School Counseling, 20(1a), 1-4.

Young, A., & Bryan, J. (2015). The school counselor leadership survey: Instrument development and exploratory factor analysis. Professional School Counseling, 19(1), 1-15.

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Zalaquett, C.P., & Chatters, S.J. (2012). Middle school principles’ perceptions of middle school counselors’ roles and functions. American Secondary Education, 40(2), 89-103. Web.

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