We were all shocked by the events of September 11th. As I watched the coverage of this terrible day, it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to review some emergency evacuation procedures which a blind teacher can follow at school. With all that is going on, it never hurts to be prepared.
Many times, it is necessary to evacuate the classroom and sometimes even the school building for fire drills, weather drills, bomb scares, and other situations. Performing these evacuations in a safe and orderly manner can be a challenge for any teacher. If the teacher happens to be blind, this can be even more challenging. In this column, we will discuss some ways of making evacuations of any sort run more smoothly.
The first step for making evacuations more successful is to develop a systematic evacuation plan for your class. Here are a few points to remember. It is a good idea to find the exit and alternative exit which you will be using and practice going to these exits before presenting your evacuation plan to your students. This will make evacuation drills go much more smoothly. It is essential to have a set procedure for lining up. Just allowing the students to rush to the nearest door will only create chaos, waste valuable time, and may even cause someone to get hurt or left behind. For these reasons, lining up and filing out of the classroom must be done in an orderly fashion.
One of the biggest challenges for a blind teacher will be accounting for all the students in the room during an evacuation since there will be no time for a roll call. To accomplish this task, divide your students into pairs. Each student should be responsible for making sure that his or her partner evacuates the room safely. It makes sense to pair each student with the student who sits next to him or her. Partners should be designated on the first day of school and, unless there is a seating change, a student is dropped from your class, or a new student joins your class, the partners will remain the same for the entire school year. This will make it easier for students to remember who their partners are. If you have an odd number of students in your class, either assign one of the students to be your partner or there will have to be one group of three students.
Also, if there are certain procedures which must be performed before evacuating the room, designate responsible students to perform them. For example, if there is a fire drill, students should check to see that all the windows are closed, make sure that no one has been left behind, turn out all the lights in the classroom, and close the classroom door.
There are certain rules and procedures which must be followed during the actual evacuation. Students must be made aware of these rules and procedures. For example, for a fire drill or any instance in which students are required to evacuate the school building, some typical rules and procedures may be no talking; walk in an orderly, single-file line; exit the building; move to a designated place outside the building and wait for further instructions. For a typical emergency weather drill, students may be required to exit the classroom without talking. Then, move to and face the inner wall of the hall, standing in a single-file line until given further instructions. Learn your school's specific rules and procedures for each type of emergency evacuation and make them a part of your evacuation plan.
Finally, your evacuation plan must include orderly procedures for moving back into the school building and reentering the classroom. Since many other classes will be reentering the building at the same time, if there is no orderly procedure for doing this, there will be chaos. To prevent confusion, students should always walk in single-file and no talking should be permitted when reentering the building and classroom.
After you have developed your evacuation plan, the second step is explaining it to your students. This must be done on the first day of school. Simplify your explanation as much as possible, especially for younger students. If you do this, students will be more likely to remember the plan when they must use it. Permanently posting the rules and procedures for evacuations on red reminder charts in prominent places in the classroom will also aid in the memory process. Use red because this color denotes "emergency." When you explain your plan, be careful not to alarm your students. Some children are terrified at even the thought of a fire or tornado. To prevent your students from being overly apprehensive, simply explain that it is very unlikely that there will ever be an emergency situation but that it is necessary to have and practice an evacuation plan just in case. After you have explained your evacuation plan, answer any questions that students may have.
The third step for implementing an effective evacuation plan is practicing it--several times, if necessary--until students know what to do. The first practice should take place immediately after the plan has been explained. After that, you may want to practice it again several times throughout the school year when your students are least expecting it. Be sure to include your alternate exit in some of your practice drills--you never know when you may have to use it in a real emergency. It is a good idea to alert your principal about your practice drills so that he or she will understand why your class is in the halls at unusual times of the day. It may not be necessary to practice as many times on your own if your school has regular monthly fire drills, but extra practice never hurts.
The final step in implementing an effective evacuation plan is evaluating how your class performed during each drill and how well your plan worked. If your students didn't follow instructions or if they seemed to be confused about any part of the drill, more practice is probably needed. You should also take note of any weaknesses in your evacuation plan and make any necessary changes in it.
In summary, it is essential for you and your students to be able to evacuate your classroom and the school building safely and efficiently in case of an emergency. We have reviewed four steps which you as a blind teacher will need to take in order to accomplish this goal. These four steps include: (1) Developing a systematic evacuation plan for your class; (2) Explaining your evacuation plan to your students and answering any questions; (3) Having practice evacuation drills with your class, making sure that your students will know what to do in case of an emergency; and (4) Evaluating your students' performance during drills, and if necessary, changing your evacuation plan to make it more efficient. Following these steps will insure the safety of both you and your students if there should ever be an actual emergency.
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