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(p. 295) Supporting Students Following Crises and Natural Disasters 

(p. 295) Supporting Students Following Crises and Natural Disasters
(p. 295) Supporting Students Following Crises and Natural Disasters

Benjamin S. Fernandez

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Schools reflect the impact of adverse and potentially traumatic events within the community. Crisis events often cause feelings of helplessness, loss of control, and entrapment; generally, occur with little to no warning; and have the potential to impact the entire school community (Brock et al., 2016). Left unaddressed, crises can have significant effects on the staff, families, and students within a school community. Such events range in duration, intensity, and result. They can include significant injuries such as a head injury during gym class, sudden deaths related to car accidents, violent deaths (e.g., homicide or suicide), human-made disasters such as terrorist attacks, and natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires. All of these can disrupt coping, problem-solving, and the general school environment. Therefore, schools must be prepared to address crisis-generated issues in order to assist recovery and reduce the potential of trauma.

Brock and colleagues (2016) identify six crisis categories, all of which fall outside the norm of a typical school day:

  • Acts of war and/or terrorism

  • Violent and/or unexpected death

  • Threatened death and/or injury

  • Human-caused disasters

  • Natural disasters

  • Severe illness or injury

Notably, when discussing the topic of school safety, many people automatically think schools are dangerous places and, more recently, assume that high-profile school shootings are common. Data from the National Institute of Justice (2018) indicate that from the early 1990s student victimization has been decreasing. (p. 296) Additionally, school shootings are rare, with data suggesting that since 1992 school shootings accounted for less than 3% of youth homicides. At the same time, school violence is not a new phenomenon. Research interest in school violence began in the 1970s, became a focus in the late 1980s, and has gained attention in the 21st century. Though violent deaths at school are not common, there are other more likely traumatic events that occur that have an impact on schools, such as youth suicide. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2017) indicate that suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth aged 10–19 years, or roughly grades 5–12.

Crisis Event Characteristics

The traumatizing potential of a crisis event depends largely on the interaction of variables, risk factors, and the perception of the threat (Brock et al., 2016). Everyone will experience the impact differently, and those differences begin with the actual crisis event and the following four crisis event characteristics:

  • Predictability: time to mentally prepare, such as death from a terminal illness compared to death or injury from a severe car accident

  • Intensity: event variables such as the scope, number of individuals impacted, and sensory intensity

  • Consequences: injuries, death, damage to property (e.g., from a hurricane)

  • Duration: length of the event as well as the duration of the consequences, such as homelessness caused by loss of a home from a tornado

Individual Risk Factors

Individual risk factors also contribute to the traumatizing potential, and these include physical proximity, emotional proximity, and personal vulnerabilities. Of the three, physical proximity is considered the most powerful of the risk factors. Physical proximity refers to the individual’s location at the time of the crisis event. Let’s say a teacher has a heart attack during bus duty in the bus loop at dismissal. School officials may need to consider whether students were close or if they could hear, see, smell, or even feel what happened. Some students may have already gone home or still are in their classroom. The physical proximity to the actual crisis event may predict the intensity of the impact.

Emotional proximity refers to the emotional connection or relationship one has to a victim of a crisis. Perhaps the victim was a parent or a close friend, though today emotional proximity also involves relationships on social media (Chambers, 2013). The impact of social media on relationships has been changing over time and has potential positive and negative influences. On the one hand, it can extend a relationship/friendship and provide social support; on the other hand, it (p. 297) potentially creates overestimated levels of connection and intimacy, which can influence how one reacts to a crisis (Schurgin O’Keefe & Clarke-Peterson, 2011).

The final individual risk factor includes the unique personal characteristics that an individual brings, known as personal vulnerabilities (Brock et al., 2016). Internal vulnerabilities are characteristics within a person such as poor coping skills, preexisting medical or mental illness, trauma or loss history, low cognitive or developmental levels, a lack of belief in one’s ability to manage/cope with crisis, pessimism, and those with negative temperaments. External vulnerabilities involve elements outside a person such as the availability of family and general social supports. This can include the general functioning of a family or the psychological and physical availability of family members following a crisis. It also involves perceptions of social supports. Both social connections and support from family, friends, and organizations such as school have been found to be protective, while the opposite tends to negatively impact students and increases the risk of trauma. Understanding one’s perception of social supports in a time of crisis is helpful to recovery. Despite having actual social supports, the nature of the crisis and/or the initial crisis reactions may make one feel alone in one’s emotional pain or, conversely, surrounded by those offering support. Some incidents may come with stigma, further influencing the perception of social support.

Even relatively “minor” incidents can cause negative or traumatic stress reactions, requiring educators to not apply their own lens to what should or should not cause stress for students. To illustrate, imagine that a ninth-grade student is walking to school and witnesses a car hit another student who was walking ahead of him. Fortunately, the student hit by the car only suffered a broken leg. In terms of the event variables, the accident was not predictable. The student who witnessed the event was not thinking he would be a witness to such an event today and thus had no time to prepare for the potential impact of such an event. In terms of consequences, we know the student sustained only minor injuries, though at the time this student may have seen that the victim was alive but did not know the extent of the injuries. In terms of intensity, the student who witnessed the event was exposed to sights, sounds, behaviors, smells, and the accident scene itself (e.g., police and ambulance, bystanders, the student lying on the ground). Finally, the accident itself lasted moments, but the immediate aftermath of first aid, ambulances, and the investigation may have lasted longer. All this combined leads to the traumatizing potential for the student who witnessed this accident. The student may experience extremely negative effects due to the physical proximity of the incident and the emotional proximity (knowing the victim from school), and the experience may be triggering a response as this student may have lost his uncle in a car accident.

At this point, he may start to display typical crisis reactions which result in difficulty coping. He may “see” the accident replay in his mind when he closes his eyes, and until he knows the actual status of the student who was hit by the car, he may be susceptible to his personal fears and the rumors circulating within the school and on social media. As he goes through the day, he struggles to focus in class, which impacts his ability to take a test; and he begins to isolate (p. 298) himself and is somewhat stand-offish with peers who repeatedly ask him what he saw. Meanwhile, the girl hit by the car may not experience any traumatic stress reactions. Educators may mistakenly focus attention on the victim and neglect the experience of the witness, which could cause the school to miss an important opportunity to intervene.

Cultural Considerations

Cultural and faith considerations are another factor that must be included when supporting the needs of schools and school communities (Brock et al., 2016; Norris & Alegria, 2008; US Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students, 2013; US Department of Health and Human Services, 2004). As the cultural and linguistic diversity increases in our schools, the need for cultural competence of educators increases (Ortiz & Voutsinas, 2012).

This element influences how one makes sense of the crisis and its consequences but also how one will react/respond and recover from those situations. Importantly, the crisis responders’ cultural competence can influence the effectiveness of the interactions and support of students. All educators need to evaluate their own understanding of culture and faith and reflect upon any bias or preconceived notions they may be bringing to the situation (Ortiz &Voutsinas, 2012). Lacking such knowledge creates the potential for pathologizing typical reactions, ineffective interactions with trauma victims, and the delivery of inappropriate interventions, ultimately leading to harm. There is a depth and breadth to culture, ethnicity, and faith which adds complexity to understanding the influence they have on crisis reactions and the potential for trauma. Generally, it is recommended that responders consider how different cultures understand a crisis and its effects; how culture and faith influence the understanding of death; rituals surrounding death, reactions, and grief; how one displays typical reactions and potentially traumatic reactions; views of the medical and mental health communities; and importantly how cultural and faith influence communication and interactions with others in terms of etiquette courtesy (Marsellea, Johnson, Watson, & Gryczynski, 2008; Ortiz & Voutsinas, 2012; US Department of Health and Human Services, 2004).

Understanding the cultural makeup of one’s school system and the available resources is important with regard to responding to and providing support during a crisis. For instance, during a crisis response a report came to one of the responders that a friend was talking about killing himself. The student was identified, and a suicide screening was completed, indicating high risk. The mother was contacted, and she came to the school. The family of the student was of Asian descent, and there was difficulty with communication because the mother was not fluent in English. Additionally, the crisis team member and crisis team leader suspected some cultural elements related to views of mental health that possibly influenced the mother’s understanding of the seriousness of the situation and the support the student needed. Fortunately, a school counselor of a neighboring school-based (p. 299) crisis team was fluent in the family’s language and had an understanding of the culture. He was brought to the school, met with the mother, and ultimately assisted the family and the student with receiving the assistance they needed. Establishing a linguistic and cultural common ground increased the likelihood of a positive outcome for the student.

Developmental Impacts of Crisis

The impact of a crisis may look different across developmental stages (Brock et al., 2016; US Department of Health and Human Services, 2004; see Table 16.1).

Table 16.1 Impact of Crisis Across Developmental Stages



Young children/preschool (1–5 years old)

  • Helplessness

  • Agitation

  • Heightened arousal

  • Fears

  • Sleep disturbances and nightmares

  • Regression of milestones

  • Trauma-related play

  • Fears associated with loss of/abandonment by caregiver

  • Confusion

  • Difficulties/inability to understand feelings

  • Inability to talk about feelings

  • Lack of understanding that death is permanent


  • Guilt

  • Traumatic play

  • Discussing/retelling of the traumatic event repeatedly

  • Sleep difficulties and nightmares

  • Anger, aggressiveness, outbursts

  • Sadness, crying

  • Increased fears

  • Separation anxiety—not wanting to be away from parents

  • Excessive worry

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Difficulty paying attention

  • Difficulty recalling information

  • Difficulty with organization

  • Confusion

Middle and high school

  • Guilt, shame

  • Anger, aggressiveness

  • Withdrawal

  • Depression

  • Anxiety, fears, and worry

  • Revenge fantasies

  • Suicidal ideation

  • Substance abuse

  • Feelings of helplessness

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Difficulty paying attention

  • Difficulty recalling information

  • Difficulty with organization

  • School avoidance

  • Confusion

  • Intrusive thoughts

In addition, consideration must include students and staff with disabilities and medical conditions such as autism, intellectual disabilities, and physical disabilities (Clark, et al., 2014). In such cases, the needs and reactions may be different and not as apparent depending on the disability. For instance, students who are deaf or hard of hearing and in need of crisis intervention may be faced with a situation where the mental health crisis responders may not be able to communicate effectively. Further, in terms of safety-planning considerations, students with autism may struggle with changes to routine and may be resistant to emergency protocols, such as lockdown or evacuation.

Comprehensive School Safety and Crisis Planning

Schools are tasked with both educating students and keeping students safe. To do this, schools must develop and maintain comprehensive safety plans. Such plans are founded on the five missions of preparedness: prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery (US Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students, 2013). Comprehensive safety plans ideally establish a structure and framework that addresses each of these areas in order to provide a safe and successful school (Brock et al., 2016). However, according to Kruger and colleagues (2018), schools are not as prepared as they should be. Though gains have been made in the recognition of the importance of safety and recovery plans in schools’ readiness, gaps remain, particularly with preparedness and training. This lack of preparedness and commitment to both physical and psychological safety/readiness can create the potential for more harm and place students at higher risk for trauma.

Engage in Self-Assessment

Comprehensive school safety planning represents an ongoing process that begins by assessing the strengths, needs, and vulnerabilities of a school within the context of balancing both physical and psychological safety. The Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operation Plans (US Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students, 2013) is an excellent source to assist schools with this process.

(p. 300) Prepare for the Unexpected

Best-practice comprehensive school safety planning involves each mission of preparedness (prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery) as well as an all-hazards approach. This means that schools need to consider how they plan to address all potential hazards including (yet not limited to) bullying, suicide, internal and external threats, and natural and human-made disasters.

(p. 301) Collaborate

Schools should avoid developing comprehensive safety plans in isolation. Best practice emphasizes the need for collaboration with community partners such as law enforcement, fire and rescue, the medical community, and community mental health agencies. Additionally, collaborating with cultural leaders can assist with planning to help all students.

Incorporate the National Incident Management System and Incident Command System

The National Incident Management System and the Incident Command System (NIMS/ICS) provide an organizational structure for logistics, teams, and communication that can expand and contract depending on the situation. It also provides a common structure when schools work with law enforcement and fire and rescue. For additional information and training, Federal Emergency Management Agency provides a free online course on school incident command (

Establish Safety and Crisis Teams

In addressing comprehensive school safety, schools should form two types of teams: safety teams and crisis teams. Safety teams are established at both the school building and the district level (Brock et al., 2016). These safety teams provide leadership and develop, build, maintain, and evolve the school safety plan. They utilize data to make decisions and help identify strengths in terms of safety and prevention efforts as well as areas for improvement. Importantly, safety teams emphasize both physical and psychological safety, necessitating a multidisciplinary team. Specifically, the district-level team establishes overall leadership, provides the support for schools, and helps guide the school safety and climate efforts within the district. Building-level teams focus on the maintenance of safety efforts and the training of staff who will address the needs within each school building.

To address mental health recovery following a crisis, schools also need to develop crisis teams. These teams lead the processes for planning for, responding to, and recovering from crises, including support for the school’s psychological needs during the crisis and potentially in the weeks, months, and possibly year after the crisis ends depending on the nature of the incident—just because the crisis has ended does not mean the psychological needs have ended. There are generally two levels of crisis teams, though these may look different across districts given the size and resources: the building level and the district level. Building-level teams address minimal and building-level crises, while district-level teams are available to assist building-level teams when an incident necessitates a district-level or larger response. For instance, when the nature of a crisis is of such significance that the crisis-generated needs would overwhelm the building-level team’s ability to adequately manage the crisis, the district-level team would provide support. In (p. 302) other cases, the crisis has such an impact on the school that even the school-based team is impacted and unable to effectively respond to the crisis. These multidisciplinary teams, built on the NIMS/ICS structures, must include school mental health professionals (school psychologists, social workers, and school counselors). Additional building-level members may include a building-level administrator, teachers, and special education staff, with, on the district level, a public information officer (the coordinator of communications and spokesperson for the school system). Other options may include collaborating with neighboring districts and/or state and national organizations to assist with support.

Treat the Crisis Plan as a Living Document

Threats and safety challenges to schools change and evolve. Schools must be vigilant and adapt to address these needs, including an ongoing process or reviewing and revising the plan as needed based on shifting needs and context.

Maintain a Focus on Creating a Safe School Environment

Safe and supportive school environments support the academic, behavioral, and mental health needs of all students with established tiers of support (Cowan, Vaillancourt, Rossen, & Pollitt, 2013). This is accomplished by the interaction of high-quality instruction, accountability and management, and supports for learning (Cowan et al., 2013). Safe schools emphasize an atmosphere of support and an understanding of the academic, behavioral, and emotional needs of all students, paired with universal, selected, and target levels of support, known as multitiered systems of support (MTSS). MTSS focuses on prevention, high-quality and evidence-based instruction and intervention, progress monitoring, and data-based decision-making regarding service delivery. It also requires access to specialized instructional support personnel such as school psychologists, school counselors, school social workers, school nurses, and collaboration with community and outside agencies. Ideally, schools with such an environment and structures of tiered support can build resiliency, problem-solving, and coping for their students. For the traumatized student, this enables a tailored plan for support.

Ensure Sufficient Access to School-Employed Mental Health Professionals

Community supports can provide a valuable supplemental support, though access to school-employed mental health professionals ensures regular access to a range of supports for all students. Additionally, school-employed professionals tend to have a better understanding of the school as a system and have more time and opportunities to establish trusting relationships with students and staff throughout the school, enabling more effective recovery efforts.

Establish Effective Communication Plans Following a Crisis

In the event of a crisis situation, regardless of the size, clear and effective communication can assist in managing the response and assist with recovery. Crisis communications are complex and ever evolving, requiring careful consideration (p. 303) and ongoing review. First, schools must establish a method to verify information for accuracy. This involves collaborative relationships between the school system and community partners such as law enforcement, fire and rescue, hospitals, the health department, and community mental health. Having verified facts will assist with fighting rumors and addressing threat perceptions. Before a crisis occurs, schools must also develop a process for disseminating information to their crisis teams, to the impacted school or schools, and to the school community. The district’s public information officer or public relations office can assist with crafting information and establishing methods to deliver the relevant information to schools and the school community. Depending on the nature of the event, joint communications from the school system and community partners may also be necessary to adequately inform those impacted. Of note, at times the school may have limitations of what can be shared based on a law enforcement investigation or a family’s wishes for privacy.

Well-crafted messages to the school community and impacted schools must consider how to communicate the verified facts. The message should not include unnecessarily frightening or gory details and instead should balance the facts and compassion from the school. Additionally, schools should strive to make the information available in multiple languages, with the main goal to reduce threat perception and address rumors. Depending on the nature and length of the response and recovery, the public relations office should consider updates to the schools impacted and the school community. Lack of information creates a vacuum that will be filled by rumor, speculation, and misinformation, all of which can increase threat perception and erode the trust of the school system and those responding to the situation. Even informing those impacted that authorities are continuing to address the needs of the schools is better than no information. Communication can involve multiple mediums including face-to-face meetings, traditional letters, electronic communications such as e-mail, automated calls to the school community, and official school social media platforms. Additional information that should be communicated, particularly in the event of a death by suicide, should include resources for assistance such as local mental health organizations and resources for coping and self-care.

Another aspect of communications is social media, which can present a unique challenge due to the potential for harmful and inaccurate information. However, schools should focus on how to leverage social media during a crisis event rather than focus on how it is a hindrance. Pushing verified information out on official school social media channels again can be very helpful in addressing rumors and misinformation. Additionally, resources can easily be pushed out to the school community as well through social media. Students can also play an important role in social media communications by helping disseminate information while also assisting in monitoring for students who may need further assistance. As part of general prevention efforts, students should learn to seek out trusted adults whenever they hear about or see postings of students struggling with suicidal thinking, threatening behaviors, bullying/harassment, or anything that involves the safety of students. This can be particularly helpful and relevant in times of recovery after a crisis. Crisis teams should also monitor social media to identify the needs of (p. 304) students and assist in the triaging of the crisis incident. Further, depending on the nature of the incident, students can push out messages that inform their parents that they are safe and other information such as reunification sites.


The PREPaRE curriculum is the National Association of School Psychologists’ model for crisis preparedness and response. PREPaRE offers a model of comprehensive safety planning and mental health crisis response. Specifically, the workshop Crisis Intervention and Recovery: The Roles of School-Based Mental Health Professionals provides key skills and knowledge. For school mental health professionals, this part of the curriculum provides the core skills related to prevention, triage, and assessment of psychological trauma; responding to need by matching appropriate interventions given assessed trauma risk; and assessing effectiveness. Armed with this foundational knowledge and skill, school mental health professionals are able to deliver psychological first aid interventions and address the recovery needs of students and staff after a crisis. More information can be found at

Skills for Psychological Recovery

Skills for Psychological Recovery (SPR) is an intervention that continues to assist with the recovery of individuals impacted by a traumatic event after the delivery of the initial psychological first aid interventions (Berkowitz et al., 2010). This approach is appropriate for students, adults, and families within the school community and can be delivered in small groups or individually. SPR teaches positive adaptive coping strategies and problem-solving skills to assist the impacted individual to adjust and navigate the personal challenges in the weeks or months after an incident. Specifically, the goals of SPR include the following:

  • Protect the mental health of disaster (or trauma) survivors

  • Enhance survivors’ abilities to address their needs and concerns

  • Teach skills to promote the recovery of children, adolescents, and families

  • Prevent maladaptive behaviors while identifying and supporting adaptive behaviors (Berkowitz et al., 2010).

SPR is not a formal mental health treatment; rather, it represents a developmentally adaptable, culturally informed skills-building approach (

(p. 305) Bibliotherapy

Another helpful resource for children to assist with psychological recovery involves books with stories that can help with teaching adaptive coping and understanding of grief. With the assistance of a caregiver, children can learn about reactions and feelings through characters experiencing similar situations. This then provides an opportunity for the caregiver to talk with a child to normalize his or her reactions after a crisis situation and to learn adaptive coping strategies and healthy activities to aid with recovery. The goal is to help children develop an understanding to establish a sense of security and stability. An example of this type of intervention is Regehr and Heath’s (2017) lesson plan to address grief from the death of a parent suicide.

Additional Strategies to Support Students

All educators and school staff play a critical role when responding to a crisis.


Before a Crisis

  • Schedule an annual review of your school- and district-level emergency response plan with the school staff and school crisis team. Review specific procedures that relate to actions a building administrator must take during an incident (National Association of School Psychologists, School Safety and Crisis Response Committee, 2015a; National Association of School Psychologists, School Safety and Crisis Response Committee, 2018).

  • Identify and meet with your crisis team to review procedures, policies, and needs.

  • Develop a procedure and process to contact and communicate with a victim’s family.

  • Develop a memorial policy or at minimum best-practice guidelines for memorials (see Chapter 12).

  • Create a list of substitutes familiar to the school to help cover classes if staff are too impacted to teach (i.e., pinch-hitters).

During a Crisis

  • Try to make sense of the situation. School leaders will have to understand the situation, as best they can, and come to terms with the impact on the school. This does not have to be done alone and should include colleagues and the crisis team. Utilize the existing safety plan to establish effective communication, decision-making, and management of (p. 306) the situation. The community will be looking to the school to guide them through the incident, and staff will look to administration to support their own reactions (National Association of School Psychologists, School Safety and Crisis Response Committee, 2015a; National Association of School Psychologists, School Safety and Crisis Response Committee, 2018).

  • Work with your crisis team to triage and assess student and staff impact, develop initial response strategies, and identify impacted students and staff. Ensure that the team casts a wide net over all students who may be impacted, which may include contacting other nearby schools (e.g., a middle school coach passes away who coached several students now in the local high school).

  • Identify locations for students to process and meet with crisis team members and other support staff.

  • Work with your district’s public information officer or public relations office to develop communications to the community and the media. The goal is to provide verified facts in order to combat rumors and bring down perceptions of threat. Additionally, communications can be used to push out adaptive coping strategies for parents and caregivers as well as resources for additional support.

  • Work with district staff, school staff, and crisis team members to assist with students returning to the normal routine of the school day as soon as possible.


  • Obtain facts from reputable sources. Social media tends to propagate rumor and misinformation if not from a reliable source.

  • Expect to have a reaction to an event, though take time to manage those feelings and reactions. Doing so assists with how children and adolescents manage perceptions of threat.

  • Model and encourage adaptive coping strategies.

  • Be available to talk. Be flexible and ready to make time for when a child wants to talk. Depending on age, children may communicate in various forms: some in their play, some through drawing/art, and some through discussion. Let their questions guide the conversation, and help them to identify and express their feelings (National Association of School Psychologists, School Safety and Crisis Response Committee, 2015b).

  • Understand that recovery is the norm, but also be vigilant for reactions and behaviors that may need more professional assistance. Roughly after a week, if reactions do not change or get worse, seek professional assistance.

  • Limit media viewing of the incident. Viewing news, videos, comments, and images of the incident can continue to heighten threat, fear, and other (p. 307) reactions, which can hamper recovery (National Association of School Psychologists, School Safety and Crisis Response Committee, 2015b).

  • Keep a normal routine, yet be flexible with expectations. The structure of a typical routine can assist with a sense of normalcy. Encourage children to keep up with chores and schoolwork, but know when to be flexible. For example, if the dishes are a regular task for your child yet emotionally they are having a difficult day, they could have a dishes-free night, or the family can all pitch in and do the dishes as a team (National Association of School Psychologists, School Safety and Crisis Response Committee, 2015b).


  • Verify the facts, and avoid spreading rumors or unverified information.

  • Apply an intentional focus on self-care, along with colleagues and members of the crisis team. Students will look to adults and their reactions to guide them through an incident.

  • Be vigilant and help identify students demonstrating changes in behavior and emotion. Understand that the function behind changes in students may be trauma-related. Consider the potential for a crisis triggering a response among some students based on previous stressful, adverse, or traumatic experiences.

  • Respond to struggling students in a calm and reassuring manner. Refer them for assistance from the crisis team as needed.

  • Model appropriate coping and problem-solving strategies.

  • Collaborate with other educators, including the school psychologist, school counselor, administrator, and parents/caregivers to plan and monitor how to support the student as he or she recovers.

  • For significantly impacted students, consider short-term academic modifications. Depending on the degree of trauma/impact, ask, “What are the most essential tasks/work that the student needs to do?” This can involve modifying/shortening assignments, extended time, individual assistance/support, and offering a short-term “anytime pass” to allow the student to leave the classroom to see a school-based mental health professional as needed.

Crisis Teams

  • Meet regularly to assist with readiness and team cohesion. Taking time to build and establish team member connection can benefit the operations of a team. Getting to know team members creates an atmosphere of trust that improves collaboration and effectiveness when responding to a crisis. This also lays the groundwork for care for the social supports of team members after a crisis response.

  • (p. 308) Maintain training and skills. For many crisis teams, responding to a crisis is not a daily event. This involves defining roles, reviewing intervention techniques and approaches, and reviewing policies and procedures before an incident.

  • Engage in post-incident review and debriefing. After an incident, teams should come together to check on other team members’ well-being and review the effectiveness of their collective response as a school or district. Responding to traumatic events can be taxing on team members exposed to the intense emotion and knowledge of the event. It is crucial that after each response the team comes together for support. Depending on the needs, this may be the whole group and at times more individual; but the key point is to care for the caregiver and each other. The team should also use this time to critically review the actions, decisions, and outcomes to identify lessons learned and improve in the future.


The impact of a crisis event for a student can have long-lasting effects. Such events vary in size and scope and can impact entire communities, which in turn impact schools. Despite gains made regarding the importance of safety planning and the need for recovery in schools after a crisis, some still lack the readiness, response structures, and training to adequately address event consequences. This creates the potential for students impacted by traumatic events to receive inadequate or no support, leading to negative outcomes. Declines in academic performance and learning, school avoidance/absenteeism, social interaction, behavior, and mental health difficulties are all potential outcomes for unaddressed trauma in response to a crisis. Therefore, it is crucial for schools to consider safety and crisis response as equally important functions of the school as a place for academic instruction. Supporting school safety and recovery from crisis events is an all-school responsibility and contributes to the broad outcomes of the students and the school. Having structures and interventions available, including comprehensive safety plans and the establishment of a safe and supportive school environment, can help mitigate the trauma consequences and assist with whole-student recovery.

Discussion Questions

  1. 1. What is your school’s plan to address the emotional and psychological needs of students and staff in the event of a crisis?

  2. 2. Using information from a vulnerability assessment, what are the likely issues or threats your school will face?

  3. 3. How is your school/district promoting both physical safety and psychological safety for its students and staff? How is your school community getting this information?

  4. (p. 309) 4. What knowledge or skills do you possess that would assist your students/school in a time of crisis? What knowledge or skills do you need to acquire that will assist your students/school in a time of crisis?

  5. 5. Who (individuals, groups, organizations) can you develop collaborative relationships with to establish and maintain a comprehensive approach to school safety in your school/district?


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        National Association of School Psychologists, School Safety and Crisis Response Committee. (2015b). Supporting students experiencing childhood trauma—Tips for parents and educators. Bethesda, MD: Author.Find this resource:

          National Association of School Psychologists, School Safety and Crisis Response Committee. (2018). Recovery from large-scale crises: Guidelines for school administrators and crisis teams. Bethesda, MD: Author.Find this resource:

            National Institute of Justice. (2018, March 12). About school crime and safety. Retrieved from

            Norris, F. H., & Alegria, M. (2008). Promoting disaster recovery in ethnic-minority individuals and communities. In A. J. Marsellea, J. L. Johnson, P. Watson, & J. (p. 310) Gryczynski (Eds.), Ethnocultural perspectives on disaster and trauma (pp. 3–14). New York, NY: Springer.Find this resource:

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                  Appendix A: Additional Resources

                  Federal Emergency Management Agency

                  National Association of School Psychologists

                  National Child Traumatic Stress Network

                  Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center