At Bounce Readiness, our approach to emergency and critical incident management planning is based on the three Rs: Readiness, Resilience and Response. In the second of our School Disruption Series, we look at how Loreto Normanhurst makes use of all three elements to plan for any situation. Refer below for the key points from the interviews, including the video interviews.

Loreto Normanhurst in NSW was established in 1897 as a boarding school and is now home to more than 150 boarding girls, and 1,100 students who attend day school. Several times in recent years, the school has been required to implement their critical incident management processes, and in doing so has demonstrated just how valuable and necessary an effective plan can be.

“We’ve had quite a mature program in place at Loreto Normanhurst for emergency, critical incident and business continuity planning for just over six years now,” says the school’s Principal, Marina Ugonotti. “The way in which that planning began is what has put us in good stead now.”

Such customised critical incident management planning has proven useful time and again, and as a result, staff understand why a response plan is so important: no matter how significant the incident, the plan has taken the uncertainty out of dealing with urgent matters at times when staff might otherwise have their hands full.

Significant disruptions

A variety of school disruptions have arisen since Loreto Normanhurst developed their emergency and critical incident management program, all within a two year period, with a varying level of impact. Let’s look at four such cases and how the school coped with them.

Power outage

In February 2019, a power outage affected the whole site, with no means initially to know whether the disruption was localised to just the school or affected a wider area beyond. The initial assessment found that there were ICT issues, but it became apparent that the water was also out…and that meant the toilets began to fail.

“As the day progressed, we knew we had to evacuate the school,” says CEO Jacquie McCann, and it fell to the Critical Incident Management Team to organise this with minimum disruption to the students. Fortunately, with a well-established critical incident management plan in place, each team member had a well-defined role when executing the plan – a role with which they were already familiar ahead of time. Moreover, robust succession planning ensured that even new staff were up to speed with what needed to be done.

“We also knew we had to plan for a business recovery situation,” says Jacquie, “and that’s probably where I was involved most.” Having established business continuity measures allowed the school to identify the critical business functions impacted, and plan for the recovery of the school operations.

Traffic accident (Medical Emergency)

In July 2019, over a weekend, “We had a major incident with one of our Year Nine boarding students hit by a car,” recalls Director of Boarding, Kate Kovacs. “As you can imagine, that had a big impact on her year group. For those girls there was a lot of trauma – the girls that were with her, the wider year group and across the day school.”

While the student was airlifted to hospital, it fell to Marina Ugonotti and her staff to manage the after-effects. “You’re pastorally caring for the girls, you’re worried for that child, you’re caring for her family,” she says. “That requires a particular way of managing the incident and a particular way of moving forward after it.”

With the school counselling team immediately activated, specialist advice was also sought from the children’s hospital to ensure strategies were in place to move on with minimal risk of girls re-living the event in their minds.

This situation was a little more challenging to manage with the Principal out of State, and the Director of Boarding off campus, requiring the Critical Incident Management Team to manage the incident remotely. The team managing the incident on campus knew their role, and communication between that team and the Critical Incident Management Team contributed to a positive outcome for both the student injured, the girls and the school.

Bushfires and evacuations

In November 2019, Sydney was impacted by the bush fires. With Loreto Normanhurst being located near a beautiful Blue Gum Forest, and with a significant number of the students living on site, Loreto Normanhurst has put solid plans in place should the entire school need to be evacuated – and with the campus close to areas of bushfire hazard, knowing what to do and when is vital.

“The minute we activate the emergency response plan, everybody knows exactly what they are doing,” says Deputy Principal Lynn Long. “Whether they are in the Primary Team or the Secondary Team, there is a really clear articulation of who is doing what.”

“We have a good relationship with a couple of our local schools,” says Kate Kovacs, who once needed to relocate the boarding students to sleep on the floor of another school’s gym. “We found that it was a really good bonding experience for our girls and that’s what we treated it as.”

In the event of longer-term evacuations, plans are in place for the girls to be billeted with local families – again, it’s previously established strong relationships with local families and other schools that is key.

The third option is to have the parents come to collect their children, and again this has been planned for by the Loreto Normanhurst staff.

“We’ve done the three different kinds of evacuation over the years,” Kate adds. “All of them have worked really well and been very appropriate for the situation.”

COVID-19

And of course, 2020 has seen the world impacted by COVID-19. The key challenge faced for Loreto Normanhurst, as with many other businesses, was managing an extended disruption following the incidents from 2019. Fatigue of the Critical Incident Management Team and the Loreto team was a key factor in how the situation was managed.

Reflections

No matter what the incident, for Marina Ugonotti, one thing makes all the difference.

“The training kicks in,” she says. “When there is adrenalin, when you can’t be in an emotional state, when there’s fatigue, you need to kick into gear based on your training.”

And while training regularly is vital to the successful implementation of any critical incident management plan, conducting realistic exercises gives a practical element to the theoretical learning. “The more training that can be done, the more confidently the staff will respond,” she explains.

Equally, post-incident reviews are as important to critical incident management planning as trying to prepare for events before they happen and providing opportunities for continuous improvement. As Lynn Long explains, “It is important that we are gathering and reviewing all of our responses throughout the incident, then implementing any suggestions and feedback into the plan, so, moving forward, those suggestions can be activated.”

In turn, these individual responses feed into another important factor – that crisis and critical incident management planning is unique. What works for one school may not reflect the requirements of another. Customised plans, therefore, make all the difference and help staff know what’s critical to the process. “The solid planning, the way we built that together, wasn’t an off-the-shelf piece,” says Marina.

Ten keys to success

In a school environment where the nature of a disruptive event can vary so dramatically, a water-tight emergency and critical incident management plan needs to be in place. And for flexibility and speed of response, ten factors can contribute to your success:

  1. Ensuring staff understand why the incident planning is important
  2. Making sure that all staff and leadership have well-defined roles
  3. Implementation of succession planning
  4. Building strong relationships internally and externally
  5. Conduct training regularly
  6. Conduct realistic exercises
  7. Establish rosters for individuals and teams
  8. Know what’s critical, and structure incident planning in order of importance
  9. Customise plans to your organisation and location, and
  10. Conduct post-incident reviews after every incident.

If you’d like to know about how Bounce can help you prepare for unexpected incidents and disruptions, go to our Bounce Readiness website for further information.

Longer version of the video case study: