Emergency Operations Planning Step 8: Practice

The most well written and carefully crafted policies and procedure are useless if they remain unknown and/or if the congregation does not know how to enact them. Sheltering in, lockdown and evacuation drills are now standard practice for most public and private schools in the United States. Our children and youth may be more accustomed to them than our adults. Practicing can also help with memory. Reading a policy is one thing; practicing it allows the brain to integrate knowledge in a different way.

Fire drill requirements are regulated by local, state or county government organizations. A building’s occupancy determines the frequency of fire drills conducted. Churches are referred to as “Assembly Occupancies,” which includes buildings such as gymnasiums, theaters, churches, community halls, etc. that are required to hold annual fire drills.

Federal law requires schools to practice fire and tornado drills several times a year to develop preparedness, while various states require facilities with paid, licensed childcare to do the same. (Check with your state government to determine where your facility falls under the laws.) These drills work to reduce the disorganization, confusion, fear, panic, and potential injuries that may occur during a live event. Some states have now added the required practice of lockdown drills.

Good planning includes conducting drills that involve first responders. Exercises with these partners are one of the most effective and efficient ways to ensure that everyone knows not only their role, but also the role of others at the scene. The more a plan is practiced and stakeholders are trained on the plan, the more effectively they will be able to act before, during, and after an incident to lessen the impact on life and property. Exercises provide opportunities to practice with local emergency management officials and community partners, as well as to identify gaps and weaknesses in the plan.