“Accommodate” is Not a Crisis Plan

“Accommodate” is Not a Crisis Plan

School crisis planning tackles a few broad categories: site assessment, crisis planning and practice. It’s a big project that soaks up considerable time and energy, and I’ve been glad to help many school districts move forward in that regard. But students with access or functional needs (AFN) need something more.

Here are major components of school safety planning, and what it should look like if AFN concerns are given equivalent time and attention:

First the basics:

Site assessment. The generic approach applies basic concepts of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED): surveillance, access control and territoriality. Second generation CPTED tosses connectivity into the mix. Safe, Healthy and Positive Environmental Design (SHAPED) broadens the picture further, with concern for health and positivity (meaning the school experience is positive in terms of teaching and learning.)

Crisis planning. A solid crisis plan gets the school organized ahead of time so that it can respond effectively to specific crises, such as fires, gas leaks, assaults, intruders or active shooters. Everyone should know when to lockdown or evacuate, and how to do so.

Practice. Plans are almost worthless without regular practice, but in too many schools they become museum pieces, gathering dust on bookshelves. Consider your likely skill level if you never got past writing down plans for dancing, driving or playing soccer. The same goes for emergency responses—practice is essential.

Second, the AFN perspective. School safety planning for people with access or functional needs covers similar ground, just with a sharper focus, as follows:

AFN Site Assessments look at the site through the eyes of students with disabilities. For example, roll through the site in a wheelchair and see what you can learn. Walk through it with an autistic student to see how they feel about it. Find your way out with your eyes closed. Respond to an earthquake while profoundly disabled and unable to move on your own. An able-bodied assessor with a good checklist can learn a lot as well, but only students can tell you where they encounter bullies, or traffic conflicts, or doors that are too hard to open, or thresholds that are difficult to roll over. They can also tell you what makes them feel most welcome, who they can turn to for help, and what kind of furniture is easiest to sit still in.

AFN Crisis Planning revisits general crisis planning but with an eye toward specific Access or Functional Needs (AFN), one challenge at a time. For example, people with mobility challenges will need different accommodations than will people who are deaf or blind, and those people in turn will have much different needs than students with autism, Asperger’s, ODD, Emotional Disorders, Psychiatric problems or medical issues. Planning for clusters of students with similar needs is an efficient and important intermediate step but, to do this right, schools are advised to go still further, developing Personal Emergency Plans (PEP)[i]. PEPs are very much in line with Individual Education Plans (IEPs), but focused entirely on crisis management and responses, differentiated for one student at a time. For example, some children might come when called while others might ignore you when you call their names but come when you announce it’s time for dessert. Some children might run when they hear alarms, while others collapse, and a few have seizures. Many can hide under a table during an earthquake, while others are too fragile or inflexible to leave their wheelchairs.

AFN Practice. Finally, while practice is critical for everyone, (and most schools now conduct a variety of emergency drills monthly), for students with Access or Functional Needs practice is even more essential. Especially for students whose disabilities make it hard to understand and absorb lessons, practice needs to occur much more often—in many cases, daily. For students with cognitive or learning disabilities, it takes a lot more repetition to turn exercises into instinctive, routine responses.

Attend to all of the above and your school will be in a far better position to protect not only the student body in general, but the most vulnerable among them.


[i] Lanchester Fire Rescue in Britain has something similar which they call a PEEP. https://www.lancsfirerescue.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/personal_emergency_evacuation_plans__peeps_.pdf  The best similar work I’ve seen on personal crisis planning calls it an Individual Emergency and Lockdown Plan (IELP). I prefer PEP as a more streamlined acronym, but beyond that highly recommend, “Supporting Students With Disabilities During School Crises A Teacher’s Guide,” by Laura S. Clarke, Dusty Columbia Embury, Ruth E. Jones, and Nina Yssel.  Council for Exceptional Children. 2015. http://crcog.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Supporting-Students-with-Disabilities-During-School-Crisis.pdf


Tod Schneider
Written by Tod Schneider

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