British Columbia (BC) Emergency Management Planning Guide for Schools, Districts + Authorities, 2015

I have extracted information  from the planning guide schools and school districts’ should have in place regarding duty of care, best practices, and annual drills and procedures so readers can gage how prepared the schools are for emergencies in their communities. The planning guide explains five all-hazard emergency responses such as: Drop-Cover-Hold On, Evacuate, Lockdown, Lockout (also known as Hold and Secure), and Shelter in Place. It is written for all hazards including: earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, hurricanes, flood, landslide/mudslide, winter weather (ice/snow), wild fires, insect infestation, hazmat incidents, electrical blackouts, nuclear accident, infectious disease, weapons on campus, school shooting, gang violence, hostile school climate, terrorism, bomb threat, contaminated food/water, other.

Is your school prepared? I recommend reading the Best Practices on page 30 of the guide where the guide recommends doing these drills each year: six fire evacuations , three earthquake drills, two lockdown drills, drills should change, and drills should involve parents, volunteers, and first responders especially if they are to involve a student release drill and a review of a drill.

Click here or on the pdf file to read the entire document or excerpts below.

INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW Emergencies are unpredictable. We usually have little warning that an event or series of events may cause a massive disruption in our lives and our communities. As one of the major areas in which people gather, schools are places where emergency preparedness is critically important to the well-being of students and employees and to the confidence that parents feel in entrusting their children to the care of educators in BC schools.

This Emergency Management Planning Guide is intended to provide support to public, independent and First Nations schools in upholding their responsibilities during an emergency. While some of the terms are used in the public system, such as board of education or school district, the intent of the guide is that public, independent and First Nations schools can make use of the information as it fits their structures and frameworks. The guide outlines a standardized provincial process for planning for, responding to and recovering from all types of emergencies.

Emergency: An event or circumstance that is caused by accident, fire, explosion, technical failure, human action or force of nature, that requires prompt coordination of action or special regulation of persons or property to protect the health, safety or welfare and/of a person or to limit damage to property. Adapted from the BC Emergency Program Act.

Disaster: An event, generally considered to have an even greater impact than an emergency, caused by an accident, fire, explosion or technical failure, or by the forces of nature, and has resulted in serious harm to the health, safety and/or welfare of people, or in widespread damage to property. Adapted from section 1 of the Introduction to Emergency Management in British Columbia, 2007/BC Emergency Program Act.

Critical Incident: Any incident, whether natural or human-caused, that has a negative emotional impact on those affected resulting in a state of stress or discomfort and feelings of loss of control. Adapted from the Justice Institute of BC Critical Incident Stress Management Program, CSMI 100.



The Ministry of Education (Ministry) provides leadership and funding to the K-12 education system through governance, legislation, policy and standards. The Ministry’s role in helping to meet the purpose of the school system involves co-governing the K-12 education system as partners with boards of education. Specific roles and responsibilities are set out under the School Act, the Independent School Act, the Teachers Act, and accompanying regulations and agreements such as the Tripartite Education Framework Agreement (TEFA).


The Ministry of Health supports school districts through section 89 of the School Act that requires regional health boards under the Health Authorities Act to designate a school medical health officer for each school district. The medical health officer, under section 90 of the School Act, has the authority to inspect schools, report to boards of education regarding the results of an inspection and make recommendations. When the school medical health officer considers that student safety or health is at risk, he or she has the authority to require a Board to close the school.


In British Columbia, the provincial government and 60 school districts, each with a locally elected board of education, share responsibility for the public education system. The Ministry of Education develops high-level education legislation and policy, while boards are responsible for the overall operation and management of schools and have substantial autonomy to determine local policy. Under the School Act, boards of education may:

• establish local policy for the effective and efficient operation of schools

• temporarily close schools if the health and safety of students is endangered

• install and operate video surveillance, and

• direct individuals to leave and remain off school property if they cause a disturbance and/or impact the climate and culture of the school.

Board of education employees, including superintendents, secretary treasurers, school principals, vice-principals, directors of instruction and teachers, have specific responsibilities under the School Regulation for managing schools and caring for students.


Independent schools are each governed by an authority which acts as a board and is responsible for overseeing the operations of the school including funding, staffing, policies and major decisions of philosophy and vision. In this regard, an authority is akin to a public board of education but may have responsibility for only one school.

Independent schools are created pursuant to the Independent School Act, which sets out the governance and funding of BC independent schools. The Office of the Inspector of Independent Schools, which is a part of the Ministry, requires that independent schools comply with the enactments of British Columbia and the municipality or regional district where the schools are located. These include fire and building codes. The office of the Inspector also requires independent schools to have the following policies in place:

• emergency drill and response,

• student safety, and

• student supervision.


First Nations schools are administered by their respective First Nation bands, funded by the federal government, and located on reserve lands. They operate under the Indian Act and the majority are not subject to any provincial oversight. A subset of First Nations schools has applied to the Ministry and become BC-certified independent schools, making them subject to the Independent School Act. A third but very small group has contracted with local school districts to run their schools so the School Act applies.

Regardless of these differences, First Nations schools in BC are important partners in the emergency management and response process. The Ministry and First Nations schools, along with the federal government, have formalized a collaborative working relationship as a result of partnerships with the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) and the First Nations Schools Association (FNSA). The TEFA commits government to “sharing expertise, learning resources, and bulk purchasing opportunities.”

Further information regarding emergency protocols on-reserve can be accessed through the First Nations Education Steering Committee or the First Nations Schools Association.

Best Practice: In districts with independent or First Nations schools that have little or no external support, and with regard to the provisions and goals of TEFA, districts could reach out to the principals of these schools with the goal of including them in discussions related to school and/or district planning.


Duty of Care: A well-established legal principle that educators are expected to use the same standard of care towards their students – both within the school and on school-sponsored field trips – as a prudent or careful parent would in the same circumstances. Uzelac, J. and Krzus, S. Field Trips and the Duty of Care, TC Magazine, Fall 2007

In the event of an emergency, boards of education and educators – teachers, principals, and superintendents – must ensure that students are cared for until such time as they can be safely reunited with their parents. As employers, boards of education are also responsible, pursuant to the Workers Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, for the safety of employees.

The Workers Compensation Act, s. 115 (1) articulates that every employer must:

(a) ensure the health and safety of

(i) all workers working for that employer, and

(ii) any other workers present at a workplace at which that employer’s work is being carried out, and

(b) comply with this part, the regulations and any applicable orders.

Specific duties of teachers are articulated in s. 4 of the School Regulation. These include:

• providing such assistance as the board or principal considers necessary for the supervision of students on school premises and at school functions, whenever and wherever held, and

• ensuring that students understand and comply with the code of conduct governing their behaviour and with the rules [and] policies governing the operation of the school.

The principal is responsible, pursuant to s. 5.7 of the School Regulation, for

• the general conduct of students, both on school premises and during activities that are off school premises and that are organized or sponsored by the school and shall, in accordance with the policies of the board, exercise paramount authority within the school in matters concerning the discipline of students.

Specific duties of superintendents, pursuant to s. 22 of the School Act, include:

• the general supervision and direction over the educational staff employed by the board of that school district, and

• the responsibility for the general organization, administration, supervision and evaluation of the operation of schools in the school district.

Canadian courts have also established a body of common law that speaks to responsibilities of school personnel. The Supreme Court of Canada, in Myers v Pell County Board of Education, (1981), articulated that “The standard of care to be exercised by school authorities in providing for the supervision and protection of students for whom they are responsible [is] that of a careful or prudent parent.” Many court decisions over the intervening years across Canada have upheld this principle.

Under the auspices of the British Columbia Teachers’ Council, the Standards for the Education, Competence and Professional Conduct of Educators in British Columbia (Standards) describe the important role that educators play in caring for their students. The first Standard articulates that “educators value and care for all students and act in their best interests,” and it further explains that this care must include the emotional and physical safety of students.

The statutory requirements, common law and Standards provide strong direction for educators with respect to the level of supervision and support required for the various types and severities of emergencies that are considered in this guide.


In a joint news release in May 2008, the Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia and the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario clarified an important principle for school staff. They wrote:

If there are compelling circumstances affecting health or safety, or if an individual is ill, BC’s privacy laws allow disclosure to next of kin and others, including school officials and health care providers. Individual cases can be fuzzy, but if someone uses common sense and in good faith discloses information, my office is not going to come down on them. Privacy is important, but preserving life is more important.

Both Commissioners reiterated that such disclosure should not be considered routine but rather a necessary step to protect students in extraordinary circumstances.

The case that triggered the Ontario and BC Privacy Commissioners to issue their news release involved a Carlton University student, Nadia Kajouji, who committed suicide. University officials knew of her situation, but did not report it to her parents or others, citing privacy concerns.

The Supreme Court of Canada also ruled on the issue of the constitutionality of search and seizure in schools. In R v. M (M.R.) 1998, the court found that principals and school authorities, providing they were not acting as agents of the police, in other words, at the direction of the police, would be held to a different standard than exists in the criminal system. The court wrote:

Teachers and principals are placed in a position of trust that carries the onerous responsibilities of teaching and of caring for the children’s safety and well-being. In order to teach, school officials must provide an atmosphere that encourages learning. The possession of illegal drugs and dangerous weapons at school challenges the ability of school officials to fulfil their responsibility. Current conditions require that teachers and school administrators be provided with the flexibility needed to deal with discipline problems in schools and to be able to act quickly and effectively. One of the ways in which school authorities may be required to react reasonably is by conducting searches of students and seizing prohibited items. Where the criminal law is involved, evidence found by a teacher or principal should not be excluded because the search would have been unreasonable if conducted by police.

The permissible extent of the search will vary with the gravity of the infraction that is suspected. The reasonableness of a search by teachers or principals in response to information received must be reviewed and considered in the context of the circumstances presented including their responsibility to students’ safety.

Best Practice: As with all legal matters, school districts should seek legal advice regarding interpretations of law and court decisions.

Best Practice: Superintendents are expected to report emergencies, disasters and critical incidents to the Ministry as quickly as possible.

Best Practice: Practice drills with local First Responders and include them in debriefing sessions.

Best Practice: Incorporate and integrate emergency drills into learning experiences in ways that increase student understanding and capacity across the curriculum.

Best Practice: Conduct emergency drills to reflect realistic situations. For example, a fire drill may involve a situation where, rather than re-entering the school, the assumption would be that the school is uninhabitable and parents will need to pick up students, perhaps at an alternate location. The drill, which would be held at the end of the day, could then be extended to involve participation by parents so that the student release plan is practised along with the evacuation.

Best Practice: All adults in formal or volunteer roles in the school have a responsibility to:

• report any incidents that may threaten the safety and security of students, staff or the school, and

• call 911 and ensure the appropriate authorities are informed.

Best Practice: School districts are encouraged to involve local authorities and first responders in their emergency management planning. School districts, if not invited to do so, should request to be included in emergency planning at the local authority level.

Best Practice: When unified command is established at a site, it should operate from only one command post and with only one set of objectives in which each agency plays its particular role.

Best Practice: School districts and authroties should work with their community partners to develop Community Threat Assessment Protocols. These protocols are essential to the successful implementation of VTRA. The protocols set out VTRA activation procedures, roles and responsibilities and communication protocols, including information sharing.

Best Practice: The school profile should be shared with first responders, however the information on the school floor plan and identification of hazards is proprietary and should not be a part of the publicly available emergency plan. Such information should be carefully guarded and password protected and shared on a need to know basis – staff and local first responders.

Best Practice: Work with your local first responders when planning for emergencies and provide them with information regarding: staging areas, pertinent building features, school contacts, floor plans, aerial photos, maps and lockdown procedures. For more information, visit

3. Assign staff to roles according to the ICS command structure and establish a school-based VTRA team.

As part of a team approach, the Site Incident Commander should review the emergency response roles under the headings of Operations, Logistics, and Planning and identify staff members who are most suited to each role. A valuable exercise at the beginning of the year is to survey all staff regarding special skills that might be useful in an emergency.

• Assignments are reviewed annually at the start of the school year to address changes in staffing and other adjustments.

Best Practice: Schools and school districts should post key elements of emergency plans on their websites and make school personnel, parents/guardians and students aware of the plans.

5. Develop a student release plan.

School plans must include a student release plan outlining how, when and to whom students will be released from the school during or after an emergency. This process includes sending information letters and student release forms home to parents at the beginning of the school year or when new students register in the school. This information should be kept in several locations, both in hard copy and electronically. For example, the student release form can be duplicated and a copy placed in student lanyards to help with triage and student release. See the Templates section of the guide for templates that can be used for student release purposes.

Staff with roles in the release of students should practice these procedures at least once each school year. This should include procedures to account for students and staff, to communicate with parents and to dismiss students to participating parents or alternate guardians. These drills could be tied into existing community emergency drills, such as the Great BC ShakeOut earthquake drill held each October.

Best Practices: Principals, school staff and parents should talk together about the need to have an orderly and regulated release process that protects students. This should occur prior to a drill. Understanding why certain processes are in place will, to the extent possible, allay fears. Critically important is the need to keep current legal documentation regarding cases where the legal guardian or parent is assigned by the court.

Best Practice: Consider how MyEducationBC can be used to support emergency management, in particular student release protocols and internal/external communication in the event of an emergency. The new system offers a parent portal and student accounts andis accessible from mobile devices and tablets. It also supports customization and can be used in the following ways to support emergency management:

• electronic record of student information,

• electronic communication with parents and students via e-mail and portal features.

Best Practice: Your communications plan should clearly establish who will communicate with the media and who should not, as well as establish who will prepare and approve any external communications.

Best Practice: Produce an information card for each person who is regularly in the school, including staff. On this card, include vital information such as medical and special needs as well as student release data. Confidential information can be kept private by having it inside a folded card, which is placed inside a lanyard. Ensure that these lanyards are kept with the teacher who has closest contact with the student.

Best Practice:

• BC Fire Code regulations require that fire evacuations be exercised at schools at least six times each school year: three times in the fall and three times in the spring.

• The BC Earthquake Alliance recommends that, in addition to the fire drills, there should be three earthquake drills per school year.

• The RCMP recommends two lockdown drills per year.

• Drills should include variations such as taking alternate routes in the event that a usual route cannot be used. Other variations could include situations where students are not in the classroom, i.e., during lunch or class changes.

• Finally, schools and districts are encouraged to involve parents, volunteers and first responders in these practices, especially if they are to involve student release and a review of the exercise.

10.Debrief and revise.

To close the emergency planning cycle, debriefing the event is important to inform the planners about how to improve mitigation, preparedness and response. Debriefing should become a routine part of emergency response drills as well as being an important aspect of recovery from an actual emergency. For schools and school districts, gathering information about what did and did not work well during a drill or response to an emergency ensures common understandings of how to improve.

Best PracticeAt the start of the school year:

• have the emergency planning committee review and update the emergency plan and site assessments,

• ensure that supplies and equipment are replenished as needed,

• ensure that staff assignments are updated to reflect changes,

• arrange for staff training,

• prepare parent information regarding emergency planning and student release, and

• ensure that new students or staff who may have special needs are accommodated.

Best Practice: Consider inviting members of these groups to join your planning committee or to develop their own plans that correspond with the school’s plans. Include the groups in training and debriefing sessions and keep them informed of any matters relevant to their presence on school property.

Best Practice: In response to serious trauma, recovery may be beyond the capacity of a school and a district to respond adequately. Plan for such an eventuality by seeking assistance from other community resources where you may find expertise in trauma recovery. Organizations that deal with trauma or loss on a regular basis can provide support. Advance arrangements will prevent confusion if and when such support is required.

Best Practice: The school or district may wish to hold a number of debriefing sessions with a variety of participants and objectives.

Best Practice: Boards of education should ensure they have appropriate emergency management policies in place to support the development of school and district level plans. School district administrators should connect with the local emergency program coordinators in their municipalities to leverage planning expertise and resources.

Best Practice: People who are assigned to the site roles should not also have responsibilities with the EOC functions. EOC staff should be free to concentrate on those activities while site-based personnel can focus on the site response.

Best Practice: The EOC, as a physical space, houses all the necessary IT equipment and information, both electronic and hard copy, needed to respond to an emergency at the district level. SEMPs from individual schools and sites within the district, as well as corresponding materials that are developed at the district level, should be available at the EOC. A district should identify and fully resource one location in the board office and at least one alternate location to serve as the EOC. It is here that large scale responses relating to serious or cross-district emergencies will be monitored and directed.


Parents entrust their children into the care of schools and educators every weekday for forty weeks a year for thirteen years. Educators place a strong emphasis on ensuring safe and caring school environments. However, we are all aware, through the power of instantaneous media, of the possible devastation that can fall upon our schools and communities. Our lexicon is now permeated with terms such as Lac Mégantic, 911, Fukushima or Sandy Hook School, which conjure up images of widespread devastation and heartbreak. Terms such as “active shooter” were not part of our vocabulary just a few years ago, now we all know what this means.

* Priorities

A. Immediate: Altered ASAP

B. Short Term: Altered during term

C. Long Term: over a number of years

D. No Action: Be advised of hazard

1 Anchor: Secure, fasten

2 Refit: Add or change for safety

3 Relocate: Move to safer spot

Employee Emergency Preparedness Skill Survey

School Year:____________________

*ALTERNATE GUARDIAN (Persons 19+ years old and preferably within walking distance of the school) *Suggestion: If possible, list 2 or more adults, who have your permission to pick up your child/ren in the event that you are not able to do so. Cell phone numbers are preferred.

• Complete and return the attached forms: • Student Emergency Identification Form, and • Student Release Form. (NOTE: Authorized persons as listed on your form, must be 19+ years old.).

• Complete and return the attached forms: • Student Emergency Identification Form, and • Student Release Form (for those students who have special needs). (NOTE: Authorized persons as listed on your form must be 19+ years old.).

Last year, we asked you to assemble a comfort kit for you child/ren to have with them in the event of an emergency happening while they are in school. Your child’s teacher has returned his or her individual comfort kit so that you may update any information, add a new photo, and put in fresh gum and peanut-free granola or fruit bars. Also, if the plastic bag has been damaged in any way, please replace it with a new large-sized zip-lock freezer bag. Write your child’s name on the plastic bag.


Many individuals and organizations contributed to the development of this first edition of the Emergency Management Planning Guide for School, Districts and Authorities. This guide will be an invaluable resource to all British Columbia schools.

The Ministry of Education would like to thank the following organizations and individuals for their invaluable advice and feedback. If we have missed someone, we sincerely apologize and ask that you contact to have your organization or name added to the next edition.

• BC Association of School Business Officials

• BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (BCCPAC)

• BC Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association

• BC School Superintendents Association

• BC School Trustees Association

• BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF)

• Canadian Union of Public Employees BC (CUPE)

• Emergency Management BC, Ministry of Justice

• Federation of Independent School Associations (FISA)

• First Nations Education Steering Committee

• First Nations’ Emergency Services Society of British Columbia

• Safer Schools Together

• School District 10 (Arrow Lakes)

• School District 23 (Central Okanagan)

• School District 36 (Surrey)

• School District 44 (North Vancouver)

• School District 45 (West Vancouver)

• School District 71 (Comox Valley)

• School District 73 (Kamloops/Thompson)

• Schools Protection Program, Ministry of Finance

• WorkSafeBC


• Annette Glover, Former School Trustee, SD 73 (Kamloops/Thompson)

• Bernadette Woit , Consultant, School Emergency Planning and Preparedness

• Jeff Kaye, Director of Public Safety, Emergency Manager, and Consultant

• Juleen McElgunn, Executive Director, BC School Superintendents Association

• Paul Berry, District Principal of Health and Safety, SD 71 (Comox Valley)

• Sherry Elwood, Superintendent, SD 71 (Comox Valley)

• Theresa Campbell, President, Safer Schools Together

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