Storm update: In the face of disaster, local schools can help

natural disaster

Once again, the Gulf Coast faces the devastating effects of a major hurricane.

Houston, Texas in particular, and its surrounding communities, are facing an unprecedented situation—the images of flooded streets and residents in rescue boats are hard to imagine.

And the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

With weather experts predicting a possible 50 inches of total rainfall before the storm finally subsides—something never before seen in Texas, according to the New York Times—the Houston area faces a monumental rescue and rebuilding effort.

Needless to say, schools are closed in Southern Texas. According to the Houston Press, Houston Independent School District (HISD) and other area systems will not reopen until at least after the Labor Day weekend.

But schools still have a role to play in the recovery effort.

Whether your district faces the prospect of once-in-a-lifetime flooding, or something on a smaller scale, here’s four steps you can take to ensure you’re supporting your students, staff, and community in the wake of disaster.

Be prepared
Devastation like Houston’s comes once in a lifetime. It’s no easy task to prepare for such an unlikely event.

But, as much as possible, districts need to have a strategy for dealing with natural disasters. That includes a plan for making school closure decisions, a robust system to share the latest information, and contingency plans for when school buildings are damaged.

Include your community in drafting and implementing these plans, and don’t be afraid to adapt your strategy when necessary.

Communicate constantly
The worst thing you can do in a disaster is leave your community in the dark.

Maintain a constant dialogue with your families, employees, and other stakeholders. That means making announcements in as many ways as possible. Whether it’s email, social media, face-to-face conversations, or other methods—make sure you’re reaching your community members where they are. And give them an easy way to reach you.

Yes, you’ll need to make many important announcements, but it’s just as important that you listen. In the chaos of a disaster, your community may have more accurate information than you. And, when families need your help, it should be easy for them to ask for it.

Become community centers
Whenever feasible, transform your schools into central locations that can support recovery efforts. Community schools can provide services beyond academics.

That may mean opening your doors to displaced families, or hosting blood drives on your campus. It may simply mean providing emotional support to families.

You can also be a virtual communication center for families by making sure questions you receive get answered by the right authorities, and sharing that information publicly.

Provide ongoing support
Even after the flood waters recede, the pain students and families face will remain.

After a disaster, continue engaging with students and parents online and in-person. Provide social and emotional support services. And, help your community move forward through an open and honest conversation.

Do you have a plan in place to support your community when a disaster strikes? Tell us in the comments.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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