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A Proposed Template for an Emergency Online School Professional Training Curriculum

Abstract

On average, natural disasters directly impact approximately 160 million individuals and cause 90,000 deaths each year. As natural disasters are becoming more familiar, it stands to reason that school personnel, particularly mental health professionals, need to know how to prepare for natural disasters. Current disaster preparation and response models used by mental health professionals in K–12 schools, however, assume physical access to schools immediately or shortly after a disaster, and do not adequately address total or near total destruction of school and community property that would preclude any form of school operations or access for extended periods of time. One means for maintaining school operations after a natural disaster makes school operation and/or access impossible for an extended period of time is to employ an emergency online school plan. Ideally, emergency online schools can offer schooling and support services after a natural disaster incapacitates physical school structures for an extended period of time. This article presents the rationale and general resources necessary for constructing and operating emergency online schools and proposes a template for a graduate-level training curriculum on developing emergency online school plans for school systems.

Natural disasters include severe weather, wildfires, earthquakes, and other natural occurring events that significantly impact human lives and wellbeing (World Health Organization [WHO] 2014). The average yearly occurrence of reported natural disasters has steadily risen in the last 40 years, increasing greater than fivefold from an average of 69 during the 1970s to an average of 387 during the period from 2003 to 2012 (Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters [CRED] 2009, 2011; Guha-Sapir et al. 2013). Moreover, the frequency and impact of natural disasters may increase due to factors such as climate change and an increase in the world population (CRED & United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction [UNISDR] 2011).

Recent natural disasters occurring around the world have followed suit in terms of frequency and resulted in hundreds of thousands of fatalities and hundreds of billions of dollars in damages. In 2010, 373 natural disasters claimed approximately 300,000 lives at an estimated cost of 110 billion US dollars (CRED 2011). The natural disaster count of 349 in 2011 resulted in approximately 30,773 fatalities with costs estimated at 380 billion US dollars (Guha-Sapir et al. 2013; Guha-Sapir et al. 2012). Natural disasters totaled 357 in 2012, which took approximately 9,655 lives at an estimated cost of 140 billion US dollars (Guha-Sapir et al. 2013).

Children are especially susceptible to the effects of natural disasters (Council on School Health 2008; Heath et al. 2009; Kaniasty et al 1990; Peek 2008). However, as schools are an integral part of most communities, continuance of schooling after a natural disaster may be perceived by children, their families, and other adults as a sign of community resiliency and, as a result, may hasten post-disaster recovery (Council on School Health 2008; Jaycox et al. 2007; Margolin et al. 2010; Masten and Osofsky 2010; Vernberg and Vogel 1993). Furthermore, schools can serve as a convenient means of providing disaster-related services and other supports for large numbers of children and their families (Abdeen et al. Shaheen, 2008; Baggerly and Exum 2008; Cohen et al. 2006; Council on School Health 2008; Margolin et al. 2010; Orlando and Diaz 2008; Whitman et al. 2008).

Given the increase in frequency and intensity of natural disasters, school-based mental health professionals and other school personnel may be well advised to know how to plan for natural disasters (Jimerson et al. 2005). Currently, several crisis intervention models exist that can be used by school-based mental health professionals in K–12 schools, such as PREPaRE (Brock et al. 2009), the National Organization of Victims Assistance model (Young 1998, 2002), and the United States Department of Education’s (USDOE) Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans (USDOE 2013). These models and others, however, presuppose access to school buildings immediately or soon after a disaster, and do not adequately address situations when schools are incapacitated or otherwise inaccessible for an extended duration. Recent examples of long-term, mass K–12 school closures as a result of natural disaster include closure of all public K–12 schools for more than two months and some for several months in New Orleans, Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina struck the city in August 2005 (Beabout 2007; Newmark and de Rugy 2006) and closure of all schools in Port au Prince, Haiti for at least three month, if reopened at all, and the temporary collapse of the country’s Ministry of Education after the 7.0-Mw earthquake in January 2010 (United Nations Children’s Fund [UNICEF] 2011).

Therefore, the following question remains: How can K–12 schooling, including school-based crises support services, be offered to children after schools are closed or inaccessible for an extended period of time as a result of a natural disaster?

Emergency Online Schools: Rationale and Existing Resources

A means for maintaining school operations after a natural disaster renders school operation and/or access impossible for an extended period of time is to employ an emergency online school plan (LaPrairie and Hinson 2007; Rush 2013). Ideally, emergency online schools can offer schooling and support services after a natural disaster incapacitates schools for an indefinite period. Not unlike a traditional “bricks and mortar” school, an emergency online school can provide a means to systematically identify and evaluate children for needed services. Furthermore, an emergency online school can work in consort with established school crisis preparation plans.

Recent Precedent for Emergency Online School Planning and Implementation

Across the world, some precedent exists for various iterations of emergency online school implementation and planning. Taking advantage of established online initiatives, schools in Hong Kong implemented complete online operations despite school buildings being closed due to the SARS outbreak in 2002 and H1N1 outbreak in 2008 (Barbour et al. 2011). In response to missile attacks in southern Israel, the Emergency e-Learning Project was initiated in the region’s schools in 2010 and has since become a priority of Israel’s Education Ministry to initiate throughout the entire country to prepare schools to operate and support children amid war or other disaster (Velmer 2012). Some public K–12 school systems have been proactive in developing an emergency online school plan, such as the Eastern Townships School Board District in Canada and the Los Angeles County Office of Education in the United States (Ash et al. 2009).

Growth of Online Learning

Online learning in the K–12 grades is growing around the world in both developed and less developed regions of the world (Cavenaugh et al. 2009; Moore 2007; Moore and Kearsley 2012; Picciano and Seaman 2007, 2009). In the USA, greater than three million K–12 students took at least one online course in 2009, up from 45,000 nine years prior (Horn and Staker 2011). Other counties around the world, such as China, Israel, the Russian Federation, the UK, Australia, Canada, and Argentina have government funded online initiatives, while other countries without such initiatives, such as some less developed countries throughout Africa, regularly use online learning technology and some doing so at an increasing rate (Borbour et al. 2011). Moreover, there exists a greater opportunity for children in the K–12 grades around the world to obtain their education entirely online by way of wholly online school systems, such as the Florida Virtual School (FLVS), a free public education options for students residing in Florida in the USA (FLVS 2013), the New Zealand Correspondence School, which serves approximately 20,000 students in New Zealand (Moore and Kearsley 2012), and the Virtual High School (VHS), which serves students in 32 countries (VHS 2013).

Online Delivery of Mental Health Information and Interventions

Approximately 2.4 billion people use the internet worldwide (Internet World Stats 2013), of which approximately 28 % (672 million) use the Internet to ascertain mental health information (Fox and Jones 2009). Moreover, the Internet has increasingly become a viable mechanism for adults to gain direct access to mental health interventions via self-help delivery and/or with guidance from a clinician (Goss and Anthony 2009; Sarasohn-Kahn 2012). For example, PTSD Coach is a self-help and/or clinician- guided smartphone mobile app created by the United States Department of Defense to help individuals with PTSD, which has been downloaded more than 100,000 times in 74 countries (United States Department of Veterans Affairs 2014).

As a result of the growth of online mental health services, guidelines have been created to better guide online delivery of mental health services and protect consumers. In 1997, the International Society for Mental Health Online (ISMHO) was created to promote the use, development, and understanding of online mental health services, including standards for delivery (ISMHO 2014). The Health on the Net Foundation Code of Conduct (HONcode) was established in 1995 by several European health authorities to help protect the public from spurious health information available online (Health on the Net Foundation 2013a, b). Furthermore, long-established professional mental health associations, such as the American Counseling Association (ACA) and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) have incorporated guidelines for online delivery of mental health interventions into their respective codes of ethics (ACA 2005; BACP n.d.).

The burgeoning body of scientific literature regarding online mental health services for children holds a number of notable virtues and caveats. For instance, the literature is fairly extant with regard to the child safety issues inherent in any online environment, such as exploitation, harassment, cyber stalking, and access to inappropriate content (Borzekowski 2006). Furthermore, even credible mental health information delivered online can have differing and sometimes harmful effects on children given their wide differences in development, including children of the same age range (Borzekowski 2006; Rickwood and Deane 2007). Nevertheless, the Internet can be a safe and valid means to access mental health information for children and adolescents, particularly with older children ages 12 and up, that also can help them avoid stigma provided the information is credible and interactions are secure and confidential (Burns et al. 2010; Cavanaugh and Clark 2007; Clifton et al. 2013; Efstathiou 2009; Horgan and Sweeney, 2010; Murie and Dickenson 2002).

The scientific literature on the application of online mental health services for children under age 12, however, is scant at best. It is suggested that social media and course management platforms have been successfully used for disseminating mental health information, running support groups, and providing counseling across the K–12 grades (Doe 2010). One study on telephone-based family coaching sessions employing a variety of mental health strategies, such as problem solving, positive thinking, coping skills, and role play, yielded positive outcomes for treating children ages three to 6 years of age (McGrath et al. 2011). While dangers do exist in the online environment and further research on the developing topic of online mental health services for children is indeed warranted, the existing body of knowledge suggests that, at very least, justifiable applications do exist, particularly for older children and adolescents and when use is regulated and communication is confidential and secure.

Mobile Apps for Behavioral Responders

Practitioners also have increasing access to mobile online tools that can assist with helping during times of disaster and other mass crises. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) developed a mobile app for smartphones that behavioral responders can use to access and share resources before, during, and after a disaster (SAMHSA n.d.). Similarly, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN n.d.) and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health each launched an app for disaster responders who provide psychological first aid, which can be used via tablet as well as smartphone (iTunes 2014; NCTSN n.d.). Also available for use on a smartphone or tablet is the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria Mobile App, which can be used by practitioners in a variety of circumstances, including disaster situations, to obtain diagnostic criteria and other mental health information and resources (American Psychiatric Publishing 2014).

Ability to Operate Online Technology in the Absence of Stable Power

During the absence of a stable power source in the days, weeks, or months following a disaster, alternative energy sources, such as solar power, manually charged generators, and wind can provide the energy needed to access and sustain communicative and educational technology until power is restored. For example, Fenix International manufactures a solar-powered charger, originally designed as a backup energy source for use in remote areas of Africa, which can charge small electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets, lights, and radios (Fenix International 2013; Kickstarter 2013). K-Tor manufactures manually powered generators, which can charge smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices (K-TOR, LLC 2013a, 2013b). Sunforce manufactures portable solar panel kits and wind turbines that can generate enough power to run appliances and general electronic devices (Sunforce Products, Inc. 2013).

Rationale for and Importance of Higher Education’s

Involvement with Emergency Online Schools

Although the need for emergency online schools is apparent and the resources necessary to create them exist, there are many and varied challenges to its establishment. First, development and implementation of emergency online schools require coordination of expertise and resources, including finding ways to access technology and energy sources that may not be available to some communities even before a disaster strikes. Furthermore, careful consideration of the unique needs and characteristics of given populations and regions is necessary for emergency online schools to work across cultures and geographic boundaries. Finally, and possibly most important given the recent escalation of natural disasters across the world, there is urgency in bringing emergency online schools to fruition in a timely manner.

As a result of these issues, institutions of higher education, particularly programs in mental health and human services, may be able to provide an optimal solution to proliferating emergency online schools by offering integrated training on established, evidenced-based practices in online mental health, distance education, and the use of alternative/emergency power sources within an established, evidenced-based crisis preparation and response framework (Rush 2013). As envisioned, the goal of such training would be to expediently train future and current school-based mental health practitioners and other qualified professionals on the knowledge and skills necessary for development and implementation of emergency online schools. By offering an emergency online school professional training curriculum via institutions of higher education, the curriculum can continuously evolve through participating institutions’ ongoing teaching, research, and community service, while at the same time address the idiosyncrasies of the communities served by such institutions, not to mention offer an expedient means to see emergency online schools to fruition. Furthermore, institutions of higher education may be in an optimal position to serve as a conduit for schools and communities to work with charitable organizations and governments to access needed resources, such as technology, energy sources, and relevant expertise.

Template for an Emergency Online School Training Curriculum

Rush (2013) suggests that an appropriate beginning to an emergency online school professional training curriculum is to base the curriculum within an established, evidenced-based crisis preparation and repose model. In this article, the notion of higher education’s involvement in the proliferation of emergency online schools is expounded on by offering a comprehensive plan for an emergency online school professional training curriculum using the PREPaRE model as the curriculum’s basic undergird (other crisis preparation and response models or combinations of models could conceivably be used). As mentioned, PREPaRE is an integrated model designed specifically for school-based crisis preparation and response across the world and entails the following six sequential tasks: (1) prevent and prepare, (2) reaffirm health and safety, (3) evaluate psychological trauma, (4) provide interventions, (5) respond to needs, and (6) examine effectiveness (Brock et al. 2009). We envision the curriculum as equivalent to a graduate level, three-semester-hour (45 contact hours) course in the mental health or human service disciplines. The proposed curriculum is divided into two major components, foundational knowledge areas (part 1) and emergency online school construction (part 2). The curriculum may benefit most from interdisciplinary development and delivery by experts in K–12 education as well as mental health and human services. The components and subcomponents of the emergency online schools professional training curriculum are outlined below and summarized in Table 1.

Table 1 Major elements of the emergency online school professional training curriculum

Foundational Knowledge Areas (Part 1 of Curriculum)

Rush (2013) suggests that professional training on emergency online schools requires obtaining the knowledge necessary to understand the foundation on which emergency online schools stand and the resources required for emergency online school construction and implementation. As such, the envisioned emergency online school professional training curriculum will require trainees to undergo training on foundational knowledge areas before commencing training on actual construction of emergency online schools. We recommend initial training on the following seven foundational knowledge areas before commencing with training on the phases of emergency online school construction: (1) rationale and need for school services after disaster, (2) crisis preparation and response models (with emphasis on PREPaRE and/or other models deemed appropriate), (3) online learning platforms and standards of practice, (4) online mental health platforms and standards of practice for children and adults, (5) use of mobile apps and social media during disasters, (6) emergency power sources and low-cost electronic devices, and (7) supporting organizations. Suggestions for developing a professional training curriculum on the foundational knowledge areas are presented below and summarized in Table 1.

Foundational Knowledge Area 1—Rationale and Need for School Services after Disaster

To commence the emergency online school training curriculum and training on foundational knowledge area 1, we suggest approximately two contact hour of initial discussion on emergency online schools followed by reading assignments from the scholarly literature on the topic, such as Rush (2013), LaPrairie and Hinson (2007), and this and other future articles on the topic. Additional points of discussion to consider for this foundational knowledge area include global weather patterns, children’s vulnerabilities after disaster, and school closings due to disaster. Other possible resources that may be useful for this part of the training include recent data on worldwide disasters from CRED (available at www.emdat.be/natural-disasters-trends) and recent scholarly literature on disasters and children, such as Cornette (2011), Council on School Health (2008), and Newmark and DeRugy (2006).

Foundational Knowledge Area 2—Crisis Preparation and Response Models

For foundational knowledge area 2, we suggest approximately four contact hours of training on PREPaRE (information on PREPaRE training is available at www.nasponline.org/prepare/faqs.aspx) or comparable model of school-based crisis preparation. Although training from a qualified crisis preparation and response trainer is not a necessity for covering this foundational knowledge area, using one may prove advantageous. Furthermore, we suggest assigning readings from sources on school-based crisis preparation and response, such as the National Association of School Psychologists’(NASP) School Safety and Crisis Resources (available at www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/index.aspx) and the US Department of Education’s Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans (available at www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oese/oshs/rems-k-12-guide.pdf) as well as readings on PREPaRE.

Foundational Knowledge Area 3—Online Learning Platforms and Standards of Practice

Training programs may be able to use existing resources form their institution’s technology support and/or online learning divisions for training on foundational knowledge area 3. For this foundational knowledge area, we suggest approximately one and a half contact hours of training on online platforms, all or part of which may take place through online tutorials, such as the tutorials offered by Blackboard Learn, which are available to the company’s clients (information on Blackboard Learn training is available at www.blackboard.com). Other useful resources for developing training on this foundational knowledge area include Moodle, a free online learning service used to create and deliver course content and manage the online learning environment (information on Moodle is available at www.moodle.org). Additionally, we suggest approximately one and a half contact hours of training on online teaching standards of practice from established guidelines for online learning, such as the Information Communication Technology Competency Standards for Teachers (available at http://cst.unesco-ci.org/sites/projects/cst/TheStandards/ICT-CST-Policy Framework.pdf) and the National Standards of Quality for Online Courses (available at http://inacol.org/resources/nationalstandards/NACOL%20Standards%20Quality%20Online%20Courses%202007.pdf ) among others. We further suggest assigning homework working with online platforms along with readings from online teaching standards of practice, such as the guidelines mentioned above.

Foundational Knowledge Area 4—Online Mental Health Platforms and Standards of Practice for Children and Adults

Foundational knowledge area 4 is a burgeoning and evolving area of mental health practice, and applications for children are not well-established. As a result, we suggest covering foundational knowledge area 4 in two parts, first adults then children. Although it cannot be assumed that online mental health paradigms for adults can be directly applied to children, we suggest covering adult applications first as a means to create a foundation on the general topic, as much more evidence-based practice has been established for adults than children. Therefore, we suggest that training on foundational knowledge area 4 start with approximately one contact hour of overview on some of the evidenced-based online mental health programs and mobile apps for adults, such as Beating the Blues (information available at www.beatingtheblues.co.uk) and PTSD Coach (information available at www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/ptsdcoach.asp), most of which come with online tutorials and other instructional materials. Another resource that may be useful for introducing trainees to online mental health paradigms is The Online Couch: Mental Health Care on the Web (Sarasohn-Kahn, 2012; available at www.chcf.org/~/media/MEDIA%20LIBRARY%20Files/PDF/O/PDF%20OnlineCouchMentalHealthWeb.pdf). We also suggest approximately one contact hour of discussion on established online mental health guidelines, such as ISMHO’s Guidelines for the Provision of Online Mental Health Services (available at www.ismho.org/suggestions.asp). Finally, we suggest approximately one contact hour of review of the relevant literature on online metal health delivery to children, possibly beginning with the review of the literature on the topic by Clifton et al. (2013). Additional readings from the aforementioned sources may be assigned for homework.

Foundational Knowledge Area 5—use of Mobile Apps and Social Media During Disasters

The use of mobile apps and social media is an important aspect of emergency online school training as those technologies have increasingly facilitated disaster relief efforts in recent years (Aten et al. 2011; Huang et al. 2010; Majchrzak and More 2011). Therefore, we suggest that foundational knowledge area 5 entail approximately two contact hours of training on key mobile apps for use during disaster, such as those developed by SAMHSA (http://store.samhsa.gov/apps/disaster/), NCTSN (www.nctsn.org/content/pfa-mobile), and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/psychological-first-aid-pfa/id551424464?mt=8) among others, and reading assignments from the recent literature on the use of social media for disaster preparation and response (e.g., Aten et al. 2011; Huang et al. 2010; Majchrzak and More 2011). We further suggest that emergency online school trainers consider role play simulations as part of training on this foundational knowledge area, such as practicing use of the NCTSN app for delivering psychological first aid.

Foundational Knowledge Area 6—Emergency Power Sources and low-Cost Electronic Devices

Damage caused by natural disasters frequently leaves residents in the impacted area without electrical power and, as a result, with little or no use of electrical-powered resources, such as what happened to residents in parts of Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 and parts of New Jersey and New York after Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 (Fahey 2012). Therefore, we suggest that foundational knowledge area 6 include approximately one contact hour of discussion along with reading assignments covering product literature form manufactures and distributors of alternative renewable power sources, such Voltaic Systems, Inc. (www.voltaicsystems.com/array.shtml), Powertraveller, Ltd. (www.powertraveller.com), Eton Corporation (www.etoncorp.com), Fenix International (http://fenixintl.com), K-TOR, LLC (www.k-tor.com), and Sunforce Products, Inc. (www.sunforceproducts.com) among others. Furthermore, we suggest approximately one contact hour of discussion and accompanying reading assignments on product literature from distributors and manufactures of low-cost electronic devices, most notably laptops, tablets, and e-readers. We suggest particular attention to Chromebook (www.google.com/chromebook), a lightweight and relatively inexpensive laptop computer that uses a Web-based operating system from an external server (sometimes referred to as a “cloud” system), and other similar devices with Web-based operating systems. Literature on other low-cost electronic devices can be found from a variety of retail outlets (e.g., Best Buy) and manufacturers (e.g., Microsoft), which we suggest trainers evaluate before disseminating to trainees as the price and nature of electronic devices can change rapidly in the modern technological marketplace (organizations that may provide free or substantially reduced electronic devices to distressed communities are discussed below). Training on this foundational knowledge area also may benefit from available cooperation from institutional divisions of technology support and/or online learning.

Foundational Knowledge Area 7—Supporting Organizations

Training on foundational knowledge area 7 entails examination of organizations that may offer assistance during times of disaster or other crises. We suggest approximately one contact hour of discussion along with reading assignments on the supports available from organizations that typically assist and/or provide resources to communities that wish to establish disaster response plans or are contending with the aftermath of a disaster, such as UNICEF (www.unicef.org), American Red Cross (www.redcross.org), UNESCO (www.unesco.org), FEMA (www.fema.gov/disasters; www.disasterassistance.gov), the International Crisis Response Network of the International School Psychology Association (www.ispaweb.org), and NASP’s National Emergency Assistance Team (www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/neat.aspx) among others. Additionally, we suggest approximately one contact hour of discussion in addition to assigned readings to cover organizations that expressly supply low-cost or free electronic devices to distressed communities, such as Worldreader (www.worldreader.org) and One Laptop per Child (http://one.laptop.org).

Emergency Online School Construction (Part 2 of Curriculum)

In concordance with the six sequential tasks of PREPaRE, there are six sequential phases to constructing emergency online schools in the proposed professional training curriculum—two pre-disaster phases, two immediate pre/post-disaster phases, one post-disaster phase, and one post-disaster/ongoing phase. As indicted herein, the six phases of emergency online school construction are phase 1—emergency online school planning (pre-disaster), phase 2—dissemination, training, and rehearsal (pre-disaster), phase 3—warning and appraisal of basic needs (immediate pre/post-disaster), phase 4—psychological appraisal ( immediate pre/post-disaster), phase 5—intervention implementation (post-disaster), and phase 6—evaluation and reestablishment (post-disaster/ongoing). In addition to the PREPaRE training manual (Brock et al. 2009), other general resource that may be helpful for developing training on each phase and subcomponent of emergency online school construction include FEMA’s National Disaster Recovery Framework (available at www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1820-25045-5325/508_ndrf.pdf), the US Department of Education’s Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans( available at www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oese/oshs/rems-k-12-guide.pdf), and NASP’s School Safety and Crisis Resources (available at www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/index.aspx). Scholarly articles on emergency online schools, such as Rush (2013) and this and other future articles on emergency online schools also will likely serve as informative, credible sources of information on emergency online school construction. As applicable, other, more specific resources are indicated below and in Table 1. Suggestions for developing a professional training curriculum on emergency online school construction are outlined below and summarized in Table 1.

Phase 1—Emergency Online School Planning (pre-Disaster)

Like other large-scale crisis preparation and response plans, preparing an online school to use in the event of a natural disaster or other catastrophe is logistically and conceptually complex. As a result, emergency online school planning (phase 1) is the most comprehensive of the six phases of emergency online school construction. Rush’s (2013) four emergency online school planning tasks were adapted and expounded on by including each as a subcomponent of phase 1 of our larger, six-phase approach to constructing emergency online schools. In sequential order, the subcomponents of phase 1 are: (1) appraisal of available and needed resources and supports, (2) selecting online methods, (3) creating the online K–12 curriculum, and (4) planning crisis response services. Details of the subcomponents of phase 1, including recommended training hours (six total hours), are presented below and summarized in Table 1.

Appraisal of Available and Needed Resources and Supports

After a thorough assessment of available and needed resources and supports, school systems contemplating development of an emergency online school can better gauge if they are prepared for or wish to proceed with development or need to secure other resources and supports before moving forward. In the emergency online school professional training curriculum, trainees will expound on their interviewing and data collection skills to make assessments about the viability of developing emergency online schools under varying circumstances. Important issues to consider in this subcomponent include existing crisis preparedness and response plans, available expertise, access to technology, monetary costs, power sources, and particular characteristics of the school and community. To cover this subcomponent, we suggest approximately one and a half contact hours of discussion and selected reading assignments using the general disaster sources mentioned above, with an eye toward information on needs assessment.

Selecting Modes of Communication and Online Delivery

After an initial assessment of available and needed resource and other supports, schools moving forward with an emergency online school plan will likely have a better sense of communication and course delivery needs and the technology and resources that are practical and best fit those needs. Additionally, emergency online school developers have increasing options for selecting approaches to emergency communication and methods of creating, managing, and delivering courses. Therefore, in this subcomponent of phase 1, trainees will advance their knowledge of online tools and technological resources for selecting practical modes of communication and course delivery that are applicable to the many and varied situations possible for constructing emergency online schools. In addition to the general disaster resources mentioned previously, resources and other assistance from institution divisions of technology support and/or online learning will likely be useful for developing training for this subcomponent. Other useful resources for developing training on this subcomponent include Online and Blended Learning: A Survey of Policy and Practice from K–12 Schools Around the World (available at http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED537334.pdf) and Distance Education: A Systems View of Online Learning (Moore and Kearsley 2012), which also can serve as sources for reading assignments. To cover this subcomponent, we suggest approximately one and a half contact hours of training, including incorporation of case studies involving matching emergency online school technology to the needs and resources of various communities.

Creating the Online K–12 Curriculum

A major task for any online school is creating the online curriculum. Given any chosen means of course delivery, which can vary widely across circumstances, emergency online school developers have numerous options for designing curricula. As a result, trainees in this subcomponent will learn basic K–12 online curriculum development strategies applicable to a wide variety of needs, resources, and situations. Useful resources for developing training on this subcomponent include Moodle (available at www.moodle.org), a free online learning service used to create and deliver course content and manage the online learning environment, and the US Department of Education’s online-ready content (available at www.free.ed.gov), which is aligned with state educational standards in the USA. For institutions with access, Blackboard Learn (information available at www.blackboard.com) also may be a good resource for use with training on this subcomponent. To cover this subcomponent, we suggest approximately one and a half contact hours of training along with readings about and exercises working with the course management tools mentioned above.

Planning Disaster Response Services

Like physical schools, emergency online schools offer a means to both recognize problems and prioritize the provision of needed services when children are faced with a crisis. To that end, the major purpose of this subcomponent of the emergency online school professional training curriculum is to teach trainees how to use the mechanisms of an emergency online school to recognize, prioritize, and deliver disaster-related services to children and their families in response to a disaster or other catastrophic event. Trainees in this subcomponent of the professional training curriculum will combine their knowledge learned up to this point in the curriculum to design protocols for ascertaining needs, handling provision of services, and providing basic support and restorative mental health within the interconnected emergency online schools platform. We suggest approximately one and a half contact hours of training that reviews key points from previous training on online learning, online mental health, crisis response, electronic devices, and emergency power sources and incorporates hypothetical scenarios that trainees can use to begin to create protocols for recognizing, prioritizing, and delivering services within a functioning emergency online school. Training on this subcomponent may work best with a combination of guidance from trainers in the classroom in addition to accompanying homework assignments. Group work also may be an option for class work and homework for this subcomponent.

Phase 2—Dissemination, Training, and Rehearsal (Pre-Disaster)

Each subcomponent of dissemination, training, and rehearsal (phase 2) works together to form the initial emergency online school phase that places the complete plan into the hands of potential users and the final phase before the “active crisis” phases—phases 3, 4, and 5. During phase 2, trainees will study methods of regional and community information dissemination, running emergency online school training workshop for adults and children, and conducting practice drills and addressing concomitant questions and concerns. The subcomponents of phase 2 in their sequential order are: (1) disseminating the plan, (2) school personnel and student training, and (3) rehearsal. Although each subcomponent of phase 2 is presented below in its proper order, it should be noted that the subcomponents may tend to blend together more so than the discriminative subcomponents of phase 1. Important training resources used throughout this phase include the general disaster resources mentioned previously, which also are presented in Table 1. Details of the subcomponents of phase 2, including recommended training hours for each (six total hours), are presented below and summarized in Table 1.

Disseminating the Plan

After the basic emergency online school plan has been developed (i.e., completion of all development tasks mentioned in phase 1), stakeholders in the plan should be notified of the plan and any associated expectations. Dissemination should include educators, community leaders, children, parents, local emergency and related agencies, the media, and the general community. Dissemination of the plan can entail posting the plan on a Website, presenting the plan at meetings, presenting the plan through real-time video conferencing or through recorded video on video sharing sites, distributing hard copy information, disseminating through social media, advertisements on radio and television, or a combination of approaches. We suggest approximately two contact hours of training and assigning selected reading from the general disaster resources mentioned previously, particularly information on plan dissemination. Homework and/or in-class assignments may include creating a dissemination plan and developing a mechanism for dissemination, such as a video appropriate for posting on a video sharing site.

School Personnel and Student Training

Like implementation of any online program, educators need specific training on the online tools required for delivering the program, and children require training on how to learn and otherwise communicate via the online mechanisms used in the program. Training, however, should not stop at merely disseminating knowledge, but should gauge the degree to which educators and children have harnessed the skills necessary to effectively use emergency online school mechanisms. This subcomponent, therefore, is critical as it ensures that a minimal level of competency necessary for implementing an emergency online school is reached by both educators and the children they serve. For training on this subcomponent, we suggest approximately two contact hours of discussion and practice along with homework activities on developing an emergency online school training curriculum for children across the K–12 grades and their families, teachers, applicable support personnel, and other educators. Trainers also may consider obtaining feedback from K–12 school personnel regarding the understandability and viability of the curricula created by trainees.

Rehearsal

A mainstay of any crisis plan is rehearsal of the plan (Brock et al. 2009; Jimerson et al. 2005; Young 2002, 1998). Rehearsing a disaster plan not only hones the skills necessary for children and adults to carry out the plan but also builds confidence and empowerment by allaying fear and anxiety due to uncertainty and perceived helplessness that would otherwise be present before, during, and after a disaster (Brock et al. 2009; Young 2002, 1998). Like other emergency drills (e.g., fire, tornado, earthquake, bomb, etc.), rehearsing use of an emergency online school plan requires dedicated time on a regular basis, including incorporation of any updates or changes to modes of online delivery or communication. Rehearsing use of an emergency online school also provides opportunities for feedback, refinement, and to address any questions or concerns. We suggest approximately two contact hours of training that emphasizes designing emergency online school rehearsal plans. Furthermore, we suggest that trainees develop rehearsal plans within the context of the school and educator curriculum developed in the previous subcomponent of this phase, school personnel and student training. Similar to the previous subcomponent, trainers may want to obtain feedback from K–12 school personnel regarding the merits of the rehearsal plans created by trainees.

Phase 3—Warning and Appraisal of Basic Needs (Immediate pre/Post-Disaster)

Warning and appraisal of basic needs (phase 3) is the first “active” phase of an emergency online school. That is, phase 3 begins when a disaster is looming (e.g., hurricane, pandemic) or happens without warning (e.g., earthquake, bombing). Warnings systems before and systematic appraisal of basic needs immediately after a disaster are foundational to school-based disaster response and set in motion critical disaster protocols (Brock et al. 2009; Jimerson et al. 2005). In the event of a disaster with opportunity for warning, physical schools can close in advance, while emergency online schools can continue schooling to the extent possible and simultaneously provide children and families an avenue to receive and transmit disaster-related communication to and from school personnel. After a disaster, with or without warning, the emergency online school infrastructure can provide a means for school personnel to identify children, families, and others who will need particular resources to satisfy basic needs and, as a result, appropriately allocate and prioritize such resources and, when necessary, inform emergency and other disaster personnel. Basic needs appraisal also can be beneficial as a preliminary indicator of possible needs for later psychological intervention.

Training on phase 3 will merge trainees’ knowledge and skills from previous coursework, such as counseling, consultation, observation, and human appraisal, with new knowledge in disaster preparation and response and use of online communication during times of disaster. Important training resources for this phase include the general disaster resources mentioned previously and the resources on mobile apps and social media mentioned for foundational knowledge area 5, all of which are presented in Table 1. Trainers also may want to consider incorporating other resources from previous courses in the areas mentioned above. We suggest approximately three contact hours of instruction that includes case studies and role play. Likewise, homework assignments for this phase also should entail practical applications, such as individual or group case study assignments. Details of phase 3 are summarized in Table 1.

Phase 4—Psychological Appraisal (Immediate pre/Post-Disaster)

Psychological appraisal (phase 4) is predicated on a properly designed and implemented emergency online school infrastructure and precedes actual post-disaster intervention. Phase 4 has some overlap with previous phases, most notably phase 3—warning and appraisal of basic needs. As individuals’ reactions become apparent to school personnel during previous phases, such reactions serve as a preliminary indicator of mental health intervention priorities that may be necessary after a disaster. For instance, children with preexisting mental health concerns will warrant special attention after a disaster in addition to any preventive measures already in place. During or after a disaster, children and families who are the most severely affected (e.g., experienced death of a family member) or show significant psychological signs (e.g., withdrawal, hysteria, etc.) also will need prioritized consideration for mental health interventions. Training on phase 4 will emphasize recognition of post disaster mental health warning signs and other mental health or disability needs. Important training resources for this phase include the general disaster resources mentioned previously, particularly information on psychological appraisal during times of disaster (see Table 1). We suggest approximately three contact hours of instruction with emphasis on addressing a variety of hypothetical case studies along with homework assignments with a case study emphasis. Details of phase 4 are summarized in Table 1.

Phase 5—Intervention Implementation (Post-Disaster)

Intervention implementation (phase 5) is the point in the emergency online school phases when tangible interventions are offered. Phase 5 addresses the provision of basic needs and other supports as well as psychological interventions. A key component of training on phase 5 includes discussion of evidenced-based practices in online mental health and school-based crisis intervention for various disaster scenarios at the child, family, classroom, school, and school system levels. This phase also will address teacher- and family-initiated interventions as well as interventions provided by mental health professionals. Important training resources for this phase include the general disaster resources mentioned previously along with the resources mentioned regarding online mental health in foundational knowledge area 4 and mobile apps and social media in foundational knowledge area 5. Additionally, we suggest incorporation of evidenced-based literature on teacher- and family-initiated interventions after disaster into training on this phase, such as research by Wolmer, Hamiel, and Laor (2011) and Wolmer, Laor, Dedeoglu, Siev, and Yazgan (2005) and information from SAMHSA (available at www.samhsa.gov/trauma) and NASP (available at www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/#natural) among others. We suggest approximately three contact hours of instruction, including case study and role play simulations, with homework assignments entailing readings from the resources mentioned above and case study exercises. Details of phase 5 are summarized in Table 1.

Phase 6—Evaluation and Reestablishment (Post-Disaster/Ongoing)

Although evaluation and reestablishment (phase 6) is the last of the emergency online school phases, the phase begins at the moment a disaster becomes apparent, either by warning or by actual occurrence. However, phase 6 is the only phase that lasts indefinitely and requires data collection and analysis. The goal of phase 6 is to gauge the effectiveness and allocation of psychological interventions and resources and determine necessary changes, including reintegrating back to the physical school environment. Training on this phase will entail use of the general disaster resources mentioned previously and the specific resources from SAMHSA and NASP mentioned for use with phase 5, all of which are presented din Table 1. We suggest approximately three contact hours of instruction in addition to reading assignments from the aforementioned resources, with particular emphasis on progress monitoring and follow-up. Details of phase 6 are summarized in Table 1.

Capstone Project

After completion of training on phase 6, the final phase in the emergency online school training sequence, we suggest assigning a capstone project, such as giving a disaster scenario to individual or groups of trainees for which they can design an emergency online school protocol. We suggest that the project be assigned before the final three hours of training and be the primary topic of class discussions in the final hours of the course. The project could be considered as either an end-of-semester or final exam project (see Table 1).

Conclusions

Although implementation of various forms of emergency online schools have been accomplished to some extent in industrialized societies, such as Hong Kong and areas of the USA and Canada, it is unknown how emergency online schools might progress in less industrialized, remote, or extremely poor regions of the world. Until more is known, it remains to be seen if emergency online schools are palatable to those or, for that matter, any regions for which it could potentially serve. Offering an emergency online school professional training curriculum also may pose challenges to some institutions of higher education due to numerous issues, such as faculty expertise, space in the current curriculum, and availability of technological and other necessary resources. Furthermore, online mental health services for children are not as widely researched as for adults and the aforementioned online treatments for adults cannot be assumed applicable or adaptable to younger children, which presents a notable gap in the foundation for developing online mental health interventions for children as part of an emergency online school protocol. Finally, there are other conceivable approaches to facilitating development of emergency online schools that were not discussed in this paper, such as leaving the planning and implementation completely in the hands of individual schools and/or communities. Until these matters are adequately addressed, they remain as gaps in the scholarly dialogue on emergency online schools that warrant further consideration and exploration.

Nevertheless, the elements necessary for development of emergency online schools do exist and emergency online schools, including development via institutions of higher education, do have some burgeoning foundation in the scholarly and popular literature. Although recognizing the limitations and challenges, facilitating the emergence of emergency online schools by way of institutions of higher education holds promise for not only expediently facilitating its growth, but also for evolving the paradigms of the approach through ongoing teaching, research, and service, which will hasten dissemination of relevant knowledge and new ideas, while concurrently addressing limitations and challenges. As a result, higher education programs in mental health and related human service disciplines may be able to use or otherwise adapt the emergency online schools professional training curriculum template outlined herein as a first step to developing their own curriculum. By doing so, we hope and anticipate that programs that take this first step will subsequently disseminate findings and ideas regarding teaching the emergency online school curriculum and, as trainees enter the field and programs work directly with schools and communities, illuminate how subsequent emergency online school planning and, when necessary, implementation should best proceed—thereby increasing development of emergency online schools across the globe and the expertise to continually expand, refine, and maintain them.

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Rush, S.C., Wheeler, J. & Partridge, A. A Proposed Template for an Emergency Online School Professional Training Curriculum. Contemp School Psychol 18, 143–156 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40688-014-0015-9

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Keywords

  • Crisis preparation
  • Crisis response
  • Natural disasters
  • Online learning
  • School emergencies