Natural Hazards

, Volume 90, Issue 3, pp 1237–1257 | Cite as

Learning from experience: emergency response in schools

  • Karlene TiplerEmail author
  • Ruth Tarrant
  • Keith Tuffin
  • David Johnston
Original Paper


In an emergency, schools are responsible for the safety of students until they can be reunited with their families. This study explored emergencies (i.e. bomb threat, a flood, and an earthquake) in three case study schools in New Zealand. Within each case, a selection of stakeholders (i.e. school leaders, staff, and parents) shared their experiences of responding to emergency events in the school. Lessons from participants’ experiences established factors before, during, and after an emergency that contribute to an effective response. Foremost among those factors was the importance of prior preparation. The study also identified recurring response activities, irrespective of emergency type, which enabled the development of a six-stage model of an effective school-based emergency response. The stages are: (1) Alerts; (2) Safety behaviours; (3) Response actions; (4) Student release/Family reunification; (5) Temporary school closure; and (6) Business as usual. The present study contributes to our understanding of research investigating how schools respond to emergencies and therefore seeks to enhance school safety efforts.


Schools Emergency Response Lessons Experience New Zealand 


  1. American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on School Health (2008) Disaster planning for schools. Pediatrics. Google Scholar
  2. Awofisayo A, Ibbotson S, Smith GE, Janmohamed K, Mohamed H, Olowokure B (2013) Challenges and lessons learned from implementing a risk-based approach to school advice and closure during the containment phase of the 2009 influenza pandemic in the West Midlands, England. Public Health 127(7):637–643. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boon H, Brown L, Pagliano P (2014) Emergency planning for students with disabilities: a survey of Australian schools. Aust J Emerg Manag 29(1):45–49Google Scholar
  4. Borum R, Cornell DG, Modzeleski W, Jimerson SR (2010) What can be done about school shootings? A review of the evidence. Educ Res 39(1):27–37. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Braun V, Clarke V (2006) Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qual Res Psychol 3(2):77–101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chung S, Danielson J, Shannon M (2009) School-based emergency preparedness: a national analysis and recommended protocol. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, RockvilleGoogle Scholar
  7. Clarke LS, Embury DC, Jones RE, Yssel N (2014) Supporting students with disabilities during school crises: a teacher’s guide. Teach Except Child 46(6):169–178. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clettenberg S, Gentry J, Held M, Mock LA (2011) Traumatic loss and natural disaster: a case study of a school-based response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Sch Psychol Int 32(5):553–566CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Convery I, Carroll B, Balogh R (2014) Flooding and schools: experiences in Hull in 2007. Disasters 39(1):146–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Coomer M, Johnston D, Edmonson L, Monks D, Pedersen S, Rodger A (2008) Emergency management in schools: Wellington survey. (Report No. 2008/04). GNS Science, WellingtonGoogle Scholar
  11. Cornell DG, Sheras PL (1998) Common errors in school crisis response: learning from our mistakes. Psychol Sch 35(3):297–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Crepeau-Hobson F, Summers LL (2011) The crisis response to a school-based hostage event: a case study. J Sch Violence 10(3):281–298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Creswell JW (2003) Research design: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches, 2nd edn. Sage Publications, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar
  14. Creswell JW, Miller DL (2000) Determining validity in qualitative inquiry. Theory Pract 39(3):124–130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Creswell JW, Plano Clark VL (2011) Designing and conducting mixed methods research, 2nd edn. Sage Publications, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar
  16. Crichton MT, Ramsay CG, Kelly T (2009) Enhancing organizational resilience through emergency planning: learnings from cross-sectoral lessons. J Contingencies Crisis Manag 17(1):24–37. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Denzin NK (1973) The research act: a theoretical introduction to sociological methods. Transaction Publishers, PiscatawayGoogle Scholar
  18. Education Review Office (2013) Stories of resilience and innovation in schools and early childhood services. Education Review Office, WellingtonGoogle Scholar
  19. Elangovan AR, Kasi S (2015) Psychosocial disaster preparedness for school children by teachers. Int J Disaster Risk Reduct 12:119–124. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. GADRRRES (Global Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience in the Education Sector) (2015) Towards safer school construction: a community-based approach. Accessed 6 June 2017
  21. GADRRRES (Global Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience in the Education Sector) (2017) Comprehensive school safety. Accessed 18 March 2017
  22. Graham J, Shirm S, Liggin R, Aitken M, Dick R (2006) Mass-casualty events at schools: a national preparedness survey. Pediatrics 117(1):e8–15. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Heath MA, Ryan K, Dean B, Bingham R (2007) History of school safety and psychological first aid for children. Brief Treat Crisis Interv 7(3):206–223. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ihuah PW, Eaton D (2013) The pragmatic research approach: a framework for sustainable management of public housing estates in Nigeria. J US China Public Adm 10(10):933–944Google Scholar
  25. International Finance Corporation (2010) Disaster and emergency preparedness: guidance for schools. International Finance Corporation, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  26. Johnson RB, Onwuegbuzie AJ (2004) Mixed methods research: a research paradigm whose time has come. Educ Res 33(7):14–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Johnson VA, Johnston DM, Ronan KR, Peace R (2014) Evaluating children’s learning of adaptive response capacities from ShakeOut, an earthquake and tsunami drill in two Washington State school districts. J Homel Secur Emerg Manag 11(3):347–373. Google Scholar
  28. Johnston D, Tarrant R, Tipler K, Coomer M, Pedersen S, Garside R (2011) Preparing schools for future earthquakes in New Zealand: lessons from an evaluation of a Wellington school exercise. Aust J Emerg Manag 26(1):24–30Google Scholar
  29. Johnston D, Tarrant R, Tipler K, Lambie E, Crawford M, Johnson V, Becker J, Ronan K (2016) Toward tsunami-safer schools in the Wellington region of New Zealand: evaluating drills and awareness programs. Aust J Emerg Manag 31(3):59–66Google Scholar
  30. Kano M, Bourque LB (2007) School Emergency Preparedness Survey Report: Improving Coordination is Vital for School Districts. Southern California Injury Prevention Research Center, UCLA, Los Angeles.
  31. Kano M, Ramirez M, Ybarra WJ, Frias G, Bourque LB (2007) Are schools prepared for emergencies? A baseline assessment of emergency preparedness at school sites in three Los Angeles County school districts. Educ Urban Soc 39(3):399–422. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Labib A, Read M (2013) Not just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic: learning from failures through Risk and Reliability Analysis. Saf Sci 51(1):397–413. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lazarus PJ, Jimerson SR, Brock SE (2003) Helping children after a natural disaster: information for parents and teachers. National Association of School Psychologists, BethesdaGoogle Scholar
  34. MacNeil W, Topping K (2009) Crisis management in schools: evidence based. J Educ Enq 7(1):64–94Google Scholar
  35. Mazer JP, Thompson B, Cherry J, Russell M, Payne HJ, Kirby EG, Pfohl W (2015) Communication in the face of a school crisis: examining the volume and content of social media mentions during active shooter incidents. Comput Hum Behav 53:238–248. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Miles MB, Huberman AM (1994) Qualitative data analysis: a sourcebook. Sage, Beverly HillsGoogle Scholar
  37. Ministry of Education (2016) Health and safety practical guide for boards of trustees and school leaders. Ministry of Education, Wellington. Accessed 13 May 2016
  38. Momani NM, Salmi A (2012) Preparedness of schools in the Province of Jeddah to deal with earthquakes risks. Disaster Prev Manag Int J 21(4):463–473. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Morgan DL (2014) Pragmatism as a paradigm for social research. Qual Inq 20(8):1045–1053. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Mutch C (2014) The role of schools in disaster preparedness, response and recovery: what can we learn from the literature? Pastor Care Educ 32(1):5–22. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mutch C (2015) The role of schools in disaster settings: learning from the 2010–2011 New Zealand earthquakes. Int J Educ Dev 41:283–291. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Ormerod R (2006) The history and ideas of pragmatism. J Oper Res Soc 57(8):892–909CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Patton MQ (2002) Qualitative research and evaluation methods, 3rd edn. Sage, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar
  44. Peek L (2008) Children and disasters: understanding vulnerability, developing capacities, and promoting resilience: an introduction. Child Youth Environ 18(1):371–388. Accessed 17 July 2017
  45. Phinney A, Brill S, Ferraro M (2004) Preparedness in America’s schools: a comprehensive look at terrorism preparedness in America’s twenty largest school districts. America Prepared Campaign, IncorporatedGoogle Scholar
  46. Ramirez M, Kubicek K, Peek-Asa C, Wong M (2009) Accountability and assessment of emergency drill performance at schools. Fam Community Health 32(2):105–114. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rebmann T, Elliott MB, Artman D, VanNatta M, Wakefield M (2015) Missouri K-12 school disaster and biological event preparedness and seasonal influenza vaccination among school nurses. Am J Infect Control 43(10):1028–1034. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Renwick J (2012) Report of the 2012 what’s the plan stan survey of New Zealand primary schools. Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington. Accessed 22 July 2016
  49. RiskRED (2009) School disaster readiness in California: lessons from the first great southern California shakeout. Earthquake Country Alliance, Los Angeles. Accessed 17 July 2017
  50. Ronan KR, Johnston DM (2005) Promoting community resilience in disasters: the role for schools, youth and families. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  51. Ronan KR, Haynes K, Towers B, Alisic E, Ireland N, Amri A, Davie S, Petal M (2016) Child-centred disaster risk reduction: can disaster resilience programs reduce risk and increase the resilience of children and households? Aust J Emerg Manag 31(3):49–58Google Scholar
  52. Shiwaku K, Ueda Y, Oikawa Y, Shaw R (2016) School disaster resilience assessment: an assessment tool. In: Disaster resilience of education systems. Springer, Japan, pp 105–130.
  53. Simons H (2009) Case study research in practice. Sage, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Smith S, Kress T, Fenstemaker E, Ballard M, Hyder G (2001) Crisis management preparedness of school districts in three southern states in the USA. Saf Sci 39:83–92. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Stuart KL, Patterson LG, Johnston DM, Peace R (2013) Managing temporary school closure due to environmental hazard: lessons from New Zealand. Manag Educ 27(1):25–31. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Tarrant R (2011) Leadership through a school tragedy: a case study (Part 1-the first week). Aust J Disaster Trauma Stud 2011(3):65–77. Accessed 17 July 2017
  57. Tashakkori A, Teddlie C (2003) Handbook on mixed methods in the behavioral and social sciences. Sage, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar
  58. Teddlie C, Yu F (2007) Mixed methods sampling: a typology with examples. J Mix Methods Res 1(1):77–100. Google Scholar
  59. Tipler KS, Tarrant RA, Johnston DM, Tuffin KF (2016) New Zealand ShakeOut exercise: lessons learned by schools. Disaster Prev Manag Int J 25(4):550–563. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Tipler KS, Tarrant RA, Johnston DM, Tuffin KF (2017a) Are you ready? Emergency preparedness in New Zealand schools. Int J Disaster Risk Reduct 25:324–333. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Tipler KS, Tarrant RA, Tuffin KF, Johnston DM (2017b) Legislative requirements and emergency management practitioner expectations of preparedness in New Zealand schools. Aust J Emerg Manag 32(1):32–39Google Scholar
  62. Trethowan V, Nursey J (2015) Helping children and adolescents recover from disaster: a review of teacher-based support programs in Victorian schools. Aust J Emerg Manag 30(4):17–20Google Scholar
  63. US Department of Education (Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students) (2013) Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans. Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  64. US Government Accountability Office (2007) Most school districts have developed emergency management plans, but would benefit from additional federal guidance. GAO-07-609. Government Accountability OfficeGoogle Scholar
  65. Wellington Region Emergency Management Office (2014) Community resilience strategy, 2nd edn. Greater Wellington Regional Council, WellingtonGoogle Scholar
  66. Yin RK (2003) Case study research: design and methods, 3rd edn. Sage, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar
  67. Zhe EJ, Nickerson AB (2007) The effects of an intruder crisis drill on children’s self-perceptions of anxiety, school safety, and knowledge. Sch Psychol Rev 36:501–508Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karlene Tipler
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ruth Tarrant
    • 2
  • Keith Tuffin
    • 2
  • David Johnston
    • 1
  1. 1.Joint Centre for Disaster ResearchMassey UniversityWellingtonNew Zealand
  2. 2.School of PsychologyMassey UniversityWellingtonNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations