Friday, March 21, 2014

Amplify Your Car's Remote

So… raise your hand if you’ve seen all manner of videos online where people do all sorts of weird things to open their car doors.  Yep, we’ve seen them too.


What we’ve seen is a whole lot of things that haven’t worked for us.  We’re not saying they never  work or that any of these folks are trying to pull a fast one, we’re just saying they haven’t worked for us.


We’ve seen people call someone over their cell phone and use the remote key fob over the phone (didn’t work for us), we’ve seen people use a half a tennis ball to create pressure on  a key hole to open a lock (that didn’t work either), and we’ve seen ads for homemade electronic gizmos that are supposed to be able to unlock any car (we didn’t even try those).


But, we did find one thing that worked when we used our heads.  Literally.


We found that if you hold your car’s remote up under your chin, open your mouth, and face your car, you can open (or lock) the doors from a much greater distance than you get by just pointing the remote at your car.  We think it’s because the mouth creates some sort of echo chamber (and with some of us, it might be the empty skull) like you’d get with a megaphone.


Give it a try.  The next time you park somewhere, keep locking your car as you walk away.  When you notice that you’re out of range, walk a few paces farther away and try the remote just like we described; up under your chin with your mouth open. 


If this works for you, then you know you can make sure your car is locked from farther away, you can use this to remember where you parked when coming back to the lot, and it also gives you greater range to use your panic button, which is crucial if you’re trying to use your panic button to warn neighbors that you have an emergency.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

5 Car Prep Tips for Ice Storms

You should never drive in an ice storm.  Period.

You should already have the things you need where you are so that you don't have to drive anywhere.  Also, you should exercise safety where you are so you don't need to do things like drive to the hospital after ridding yourself of "cabin fever."

However, all that being said, there are a few reasons you might want to get in your car during an ice storm.  You might need to use the car adapter to charge your phone or laptop in a power outage.  You might also need to use something like a power inverter to run an important appliance.  Or, your car's heater might be the best source of warmth you have.

At any rate, there are a few things you can do to protect your vehicle, keep it accessible in an ice storm, and to protect it from the ravages of ice and cold.  Let's look at a few tips:

1. Top off your tank.  If you need the car to recharge your electronics, or for warmth, or as a generator, that means you have to run the engine.  That of course means you need fuel.  A full tank is a cardinal rule in all preparedness; not just ice storms.

2. "Dock" your car.  This means to move it to a safer area if you can't park in a garage and your driveway has "issues."  "Docking" is a common term in areas prone to flooding where people park their car on higher ground during heavy rains. In our ice storm example, you may have a tree with overhanging limbs that could fall on your car if they accumulate ice.  Or, the driveway might be kind of steep and you'd rather park on the level street. 

3. Pre-treat your locks.  Locks can freeze in cold weather, so pre-treat yours with a little squirt of WD-40.  Just stick the nozzle inside and spray.  If they still freeze up a little, you can gently heat your door key with a lighter to help melt the ice when you slide the key in the key hole.

4. Cover your car.  In an ice storm, a sheet of ice will certainly form all over you vehicle and make it very difficult to get the doors or windows open.  Putting a tarp or other cover over your car will keep it accessible pretty much all the time.  Just be sure to anchor the tarp or cover in place so it doesn't blow off in windy conditions.

5. Keep the engine block warm.  I extreme cold, the limits of your radiator's anti-freeze might be put to the test, and your engine block could crack.  Or, your battery could freeze and prevent the engine starting at all.  One thought is to run an extension cord out to your car and place a drop light with a 75 to 100 watt bulb (if you can still find any) to generate just enough heat under the hood to keep things from freezing solid.  Or, you can run a cord and cover your engine with an electric blanket or heating pad.

For tips on winter driving, see our earlier post entitled "Driving in Winter Weather."

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Winter Driving Prep Tip: Map your Assets

While the weather is good (you know, while you have time and there is no emergency – the perfect time to take preparedness steps) , take your paper map with you and spend some time driving your normal daily travel routes.  Look for things that would help you during any emergency that involved impassable roads or gridlocked traffic.  Look for things such as:  


·         Highway exits that are level or only slightly downhill so you can use them safely in snow or ice. 

·         Potential parking areas where you could stay a while or leave your vehicle.

·         Exits with more hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, or medical / emergency services.

·         Exits with more gas stations.

·         Locations where you have better walking routes to get you where you need to be.

·         Areas that are generally safe in good weather.

·         Highway or roadway areas with wide shoulders where you could park or safely leave your vehicle if you couldn’t make it to an exit.

·         Bottlenecks or obstacles such as bridges that might be impassable or extremely narrow areas where you could not exit the roadway. Map these so you can avoid them if you have the opportunity.

You need to record these things so you have a written copy of all assets and options at your disposal.  If you're sitting in traffic that's going nowhere you'll want to know what's available to you at any point along your normal routes so you can make an informed decision on how to react. 

Once you plot all this on your map, make a copy and share it with your significant other and your emergency contact person.  Let them know what your travel routes are, your plan if stranded, and any alternate routes or walking routes so that if they know you’re caught up in post-event gridlock, they’ll have a good idea of what you did and where you went.


Do this in hardcopy form so you can have reaction plans already in place that don’t depend on electronic communication working. 


By the way, we’ve added a new sample to our free forms page.  It’s the “Notify In Case of Emergency” forms and you can get them at


(This is a small portion of the “Evac Atlas” concept from our main book “Disaster Prep 101.”)


Saturday, January 04, 2014

Extreme Cold: Tips to Remember at Home

At the time of this writing, the US is about to experience an arctic blast that will drop temperatures across the country to levels not seen in over 20 years.

In an outdoor survival situation, this would be potentially deadly unless you were well equipped and/or knew what you were doing.

But that’s another story for another time.  At InfoQuest, our goal is to help you maintain your lifestyle as you know it, so for our article today, we’ll focus on ways you can help take the bitter edge off this cold front and keep you and yours safe and warm.

A few things to consider as the icy front approaches:

1.     Do everything in your power to make sure all outdoor animals are safe, warm, watered, and fed.  If any of these animals are pets, such as dogs that are kenneled outdoors, see if you can bring them inside.

2.     Fill up water containers around the house in anticipation of municipal water lines freezing and bursting.  Fill up your normal water pitchers, pet water bowls, plant watering cans, fill your washing machine on the cold water cycle (no detergent!) and turn it off so you’ll have a full tub of water, and maybe fill a clean bath tub with water as well.

3.     Open all cabinets under sinks so that the pipes are exposed to the room’s heat.  In weather like this, our pipes will need all the help they can get.

4.     Let all faucets drip.  The colder the weather the more you should let the water run.  Moving water doesn’t freeze as fast in the pipes.

5.     Wherever you can get to your pipes in or under your house, do what you can to provide a little warmth.  You might run some 75 or 100 watt bulbs in a crawl space, or place a bulb next to an incoming metal pipe (not to a plastic pipe), or you can lay an electric blanket against any of your pipes.  Just try to get some safe heat to keep them from freezing.  And by safe, we mean something that won’t damage your pipes, or that will cause a fire that will burn your house down.

6.     If you’re having trouble heating your home, have everyone sleep in the same room, and the smaller the room the better.  Also, try not to let anyone sleep on the floor since the floor will be colder.

7.     If you have a space heater be sure it’s properly placed and is not too near anything flammable.  Also, it’s best not to run it all night.  Just warm the room at first, shut off the heater, and then set an alarm to get up in a few hours to run it again for a bit.

8.     If you’re on limited power, like you would be if using a generator, then you can only do so much for so long.  One trick is to take a blow drier to warm your bedding right before you crawl in.  Don’t leave the drier running though, it’s only for short interval use.

9.     In our training manual “Disaster Prep 101” we have an extensive chapter on home heating in emergency situations.  One of the notions we discuss (since you want to limit open flame) is to heat rocks or fire-proof bricks on your grill or outdoor fire, and use the heated rocks to warm the room you’re in.  Again, be safe with these hot rocks.

10.  Draw the curtains, close the blinds and do what you can to prevent drafts from doors and windows.  You can seal around your door and window seams with painter’s tape, and you can also place rolled-up towels along the base of windows where they open, and you can hang blankets over your doors and windows to further reduce draft or loss of heat through poorly insulated surfaces.

11.  Hint: If you have a “power inverter” (available at most mega-marts, hardware stores, and automotive supply stores) you can use your car as a temporary generator.  Just don’t run it too long, and be sure it’s secure from theft while you have it outside running.  On a related note, if the temperature in your area is really going to fall, you might consider running an extension cord and a "drop light" (workshop lamp) with a 75 or 100 watt bulb to keep your car's engine warm to prevent freezing.

12.  If you have a generator and have several items to run, you’ll have to rotate usage.  Contrary to the TV commercials, your average household generator won’t run everything in the house all night long!  One trick is to use “light timers” (like you would for home security) and have your generator power cord coming in to the house to a bus bar or power strip and use a few light timers to alternate appliance usage.  Hooking up a few timers will free you up from having to monitor power switching all night long.


While we have you, let’s remind everyone of a few things to NOT do:


1.     Don’t heat with open flame unless you have a fireplace in the room and someone will stay up to monitor the fire.  Flame presents a danger and it also consumes breathable oxygen if you’re in a sealed or well-insulated room.

2.     NEVER heat with charcoal, even if it’s in the fireplace.  Charcoal produces more carbon monoxide than just about any other fuel.

3.     If you have a generator, do NOT run it inside the house or near a door or window.  Numerous fatalities occur each year from carbon monoxide poisoning after someone used a generator improperly

4.     Don’t heat with water or steam (unless it’s a sealed hot water bottle) because then everything just gets damp and that much colder when the heat wears off.

5.     Don’t use duct tape to seal around doors and windows.  Painter’s tape works fine and it won’t rip the paint off when it’s time to take it down.

6.     Don’t waste your time with the “tea candle and clay pot” heaters.  Some will raise the temperature of a very small room a degree or two over the course of eight hours, but most designs won’t (especially the designs where two or more pots are held stacked together with a steel bolt through their drain holes), and they’re still a flame heater which pose fire and oxygen consumption risks.


These are but a few of the hundreds of “warm in the winter” tips from our manual “Disaster Prep 101.”  We wanted to share some of these now since the cold front was on its way.


Stay safe, and stay warm!

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Driving in Winter Weather


With severe winter weather dominating the headlines in recent weeks, and with no letup in sight despite recent groundhog prognostications, it’s best to know how to protect yourself should things get I.C.E.D. over.


Intel – Awareness is key in any emergency.  Know what might happen, when and where and what to do.

Communication – Be able to get the word out if you need help.

Emergency Personnel – They might not be able to get you.  The best thing you can do is not need them.

Driving – It’s best not to drive in severe winter weather, but if you do, make sure you’re ready.




w  Pay attention to the weather.  Know when and where it might snow or ice.  Ask your employer to do the same and let people leave early or stay home altogether.

w  Don’t rely on electronics.  Sure, “there’s an app for that,” but since we can’t rely on cell towers being functional or you to conveniently experience trouble only when you have good cell reception, then it’s best you have some hardcopy backups of a few things like a map of where you travel in case you get stranded and have to set out on foot.

w  Speaking of setting out on foot, know how to read a map and use a compass. 




w  If you get stuck, you need to be able to summon help, and catch their attention when they come by.  You might be snowed in, either in your vehicle or residence (where address #s might not be visible) and you need to let help know where you are.  These items can and should be duplicated between vehicle and residence.

w  Cell phone – Always keep a phone charger in your car that plugs into the accessory (cigarette lighter) port.  Nothing worse than a dead cell phone in an emergency, and if you’re at home and the power goes out, you can go out to your car to charge your phone. Same rule applies for laptop computers; get a vehicle charger for them.

w  Light – flashlights and spotlights (vehicle mainly), “chemlite” glow sticks; all of these can be used to see when there’s no power and to signal for help.  Notice we don’t list any flame-based light sources.  Those are better left off of immediate emergency kit lists since you have no way of knowing in an immediate situation if there are gas leaks, etc., or conditions in which flame is dangerous.  Also, using flame inside an enclosed car is not only dangerous from a fire standpoint, it also uses up breathable air.

w  Other visual signals – fluorescent pink spray paint can be used to make a sign on a snow bank either at your vehicle or in front of your house.  So can brightly colored towels.  It’s better to be able to tell the 911 operator “I’ll be the guy out waving a large orange towel!” than it is to tell them “I’m one of 20 stranded vehicles near the mile marker so just keep looking!”

w  Pen and paper – if you leave your vehicle, leave a note listing day, date, time, intended destination, and your cell phone number for road crews and emergency responders.  You don’t want them wasting time searching for the driver of a car found in a ditch after sliding off the road, and if you do go missing, you’ll want rescuers to have a clue about when you left and where you were going.  Even if they’re only there to tow your car when the ice melts, it’s easier for them to contact you if you left a note than by them putting your info down and trying to find you by your tag number later.  You can also leave a note in grease pencil inside your front and rear windshields.


Emergency Personnel


w  In periods of heavy snow and ice, it’s important to guard your health for many reasons, but one in particular: the rescue crews can’t come get you.  You’ll want them to and they’ll want to, but road conditions may make it impossible.  The best thing to do in any emergency is to not need the services of emergency / rescue personnel.

w  Eat!  For two reasons:  One, cold weather uses up a lot of your body’s energy because your body is trying to maintain your body temperature.  Two, being full causes you to be restful, which is a good thing for the kids who might be snowed-in and cooped up in the house. 

w  Entertain the kids.  Since rescue personnel can’t necessarily come get you, it’s best that the kids not get restless and injure themselves.

w  Rest.  If you don’t absolutely have to, don’t bother shoveling the driveway or walkway.  Some areas require that you do, but if you really don’t have to then don’t.  This activity is a major trigger for heart attacks every year.





w  Don’t travel if you don’t have to!  (But when you do, make sure you always start with a FULL tank of gas!)

w  Leave work early as you can.  – Employers should keep an eye on the weather, mindful of their employees’ safety.

w  If you’re on a road trip, pay attention to the weather, and yes, there’s an app for that!  Also watch truckers.  If you hear of snow up ahead and see all the 18-wheelers pulling off at truck stops, maybe they know something you don’t.  Better to look for lodging than emergency assistance.

w  Too many news headlines during winter weather occur because of wrecks on the roadways, or people getting stranded in ice or snow and attempting to walk out of the area.  Also, if you’re involved in a wreck on an icy road, stay in your car as long as possible.  Other cars might come along and add to the pileup or you might slip and fall on the same icy road that caused the wreck.

w  In addition to the normal road safety gear that should live in your vehicle year-round, your winter weather driving survival kit should contain:

w  Clothing – carry an extra jacket, over-pants, boots, socks, gloves (preferably mittens since they’re warmer), winter hat or head covering (all clothing should be brightly colored), sunglasses, chapstick, moisturizing lotion, wick-based pocket warmers, and a blanket.  Repeat this for each person that regularly rides in your vehicle.

w  Food – protein bars, peanut butter and crackers, water (2/3 full containers in case of freezing), instant coffee, plug-in immersion heater, maybe some MREs with the heater pack or the “5 Minute Chef” kits with heater pack.  Note:  If you’re stranded and need water, you can melt snow in a cup sitting on top of your car’s engine.  You can also heat food this way.

w  Cold weather car gear: chains for the tires, a bag or two of coarse sand for traction (NO kitty litter!), spotlight for signaling, “Jumpstart” if you can afford it, hand-cranked winch, rope, medium shovel, notepad and pen to tell rescuers where you've gone if you set off on foot.

w  Note- If you’re stranded in your vehicle, you’ll need heat.  Provided you followed all our other advice, your gas tank is nearly full so that’s no problem.  For heat while stranded, make sure there’s no snow blocking your exhaust pipe and run your engine 10 or 15 minutes out of every hour, but no more, and be sure to open a door or window a few minutes each hour for fresh air.  You don’t want carbon monoxide building in or around your vehicle, and you don’t want to cause engine damage by idling for too long.

w  Maps – Since one of your options if you do get stranded is to walk out of the area (again, only do this if you absolutely have to) you’ll need to know where you are and where you’re going.  Sure, there’s an app for that, but in emergencies, redundancy is our friend and since we can’t guarantee cell towers are going to be working, or that you’ll conveniently get stranded in an area with good cell reception, you need to have a paper map of the areas you travel kept in your kit.  And, you’ll need a compass, especially if you’re in an area you’re not familiar with.

w  And by the way, all the personal items in your winter weather driving survival kit (not the items used on your vehicle) should be stored in a backpack so you can take them with you if you absolutely have to try to walk away on your own.



Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wax On, Wax Off, Wax All Over the Place?

Whether sealing equipment, making fire starters, augmenting your favorite shotgun shell load, whatever; many projects call for melted wax or paraffin.

As we look at different sets of instruction and watch different videos, we keep seeing one thing: People don't know how to melt wax. Some folks put wax in a cup and put it over a flame (fire danger), some put it in a cup and then in a pan with a little water around it and call it a double boiler (again, fire danger). Others actually use a double boiler but you never see them cleaning up afterward (mess - wife danger).

Here's what we do.

We use an old crock pot with a double crondom (a "crock pot condom" or plastic bag liner you get at the grocery store), we drop in our old candles, crayons or whatever else we want to melt and then we turn it on low and wait. When it's all melted, we use a dollar store ladle, dip out what we need, and if possible we hold the container that is receiving the wax over the crock pot (no spillage).

Later we turn off the crock pot and when the wax has cooled and hardened, we just lift the bag out simply and cleanly and set it aside until the next time it needs to be melted. No muss, no fuss, no mess, no wasted time.  Using a double liner as we do prevents breakage since we use them several times.

This has been another of the "zillions" of tips from "Disaster Prep 101."

Friday, December 21, 2012

10 Ways Schools Can Better Protect Your Children

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and to those affected by this event though they were miles away.

Though this tragedy has sparked intense debate about causes and reactions, the only true issue at hand is the safety of people in public places, be it schools, places of worship, shopping centers, or sporting events. 

What we offer here is a focus on schools with a contribution to the voice of reason, and steps to add to the list of things we can actually DO to genuinely make our communities safer and our schools havens of peace rather than oppressive fortresses, or the other extreme, soft targets.

Schools are soft targets because we skimp on security in many cases because we don’t want our kids spending every day in what appears to be a dreary, desolate, prison.  We want our children in an atmosphere where they can learn, grow, socialize, and develop to the best of their abilities.  Below are some of the many steps that schools can take to keep your C.H.I.L.D. S.A.F.E.R.:


Classroom Security – The classroom may be your best refuge.  Can you secure the room?

Hiring and Training Staff – Have you trained your teachers and staff for emergencies?

Issues and Policies – Knowing your threats and planning your response puts you miles ahead.

Lockdown Alarms – Everyone has fire alarms to signal evacuation.  What about lockdowns?

Drills and Game-Planning – Your teachers, staff, and local responders need to plan together.

Shared Monitoring – The more eyes on your security the better.  Who can help you?

Anticipate the Criminal Mind – The deranged don’t abide by laws.  What will they do next?

Fear Has No Place – The goal of any readiness program is confidence.  Know how to instill it?

Extra Security Personnel – How can you add layers of protection without breaking the bank?

Recruit the Parents – Some parents want to help, others may not.  How do you include them?


Before we get into the details of the above, we will say this.  Almost every school in the country has a detailed set of emergency plans.  That’s a good thing.  But as we all know, the devil is in the details, so we’re here to give but a few places to look when reviewing your school’s plan as we all will after this tragedy.


1. Classroom Security.  No matter how close the cops are, it takes a few minutes for them to get there so you may be on your own for a little while.  Here are a few basics to consider with classroom security:

¨ Heavier Doors – Doors are part of the structure protecting students from a number of threats including tornadoes and fire.  The heavier (thicker) the door, the better the protection.  Also, all glass should be wire mesh reinforced.  This makes intrusion more difficult and creates less shrapnel in destructive events.

¨ Lockable Doors – Classrooms and regularly accessed areas (such as teacher’s lounges, etc.) should be lockable with both knob lock and deadbolt, and possibly a sliding latch.  If the budget can afford it, hallway doors should be closable and lockable by remote control (sort of like fire doors) from the main office and/or security office.

¨ First Aid Kits – Every classroom should have an extensive one.  Though some of the contents may be above the average teacher’s skill level, the kit may act as a redundant supply for emergency responders.

¨ Redundant Communication – Every school should have A – A two-way intercom system connected to each classroom, B – A reciprocal text system to both send and receive alerts as well as allow a teacher in hiding to silently request help, C – Monitoring access to any web cams on school-owned computers located in classrooms, D – A list of all teachers’ cell phone, E – A non-electronic system of communication for bomb threat scenarios where electronics should not be used (signs, flags, whistles, etc.), F – Both Fire Alarms and “Lockdown Alarms” which are discussed below.

¨ “Designer Debris” – Classrooms should have furniture or other items designed for not only their main purpose, but also to be used as an expedient barrier to help deny an active shooter access to the classroom.  An example is a teacher’s desk designed to be flipped on end, fit snuggly in the doorway, and held in place with hooks or other fasteners.  Other notions include rolling book cases and stackable desks.  (Note: Actual use depends on warning time which is discussed below under “Lockdown Alarms.”)


2. Hiring & Training Staff.  In any professional setting, your biggest asset is your people.  And the more you can train, retain, and protect your people, the better for everyone involved.  In this particular case, teachers, in addition to being educators and molders of minds, are the stewards of our children’s safety. 

¨ Hire More Veterans – Thousands of veterans are coming back home.  These folks would be more capable than the average civilian of providing an extra layer of protection for students in any number of emergency scenarios.  We suggest the government should shift available funding within the VA Benefits / GI Bill arena to provide more incentive for returning vets to pursue a degree in Education.

¨ Get Physical – If a school has an opening and two final candidates are chosen with equal qualifications, go for the one who is more physically capable of protecting the students.  This statement is not intended to discriminate against anyone with any form of challenge.  It is presented as a reminder that student protection is part of a teacher’s job and should be considered in the hiring process.

¨ Self-Defense Training – Hand to hand combat against an armed assailant is never a good choice.  However, as we saw at Sandy Hook and other places, heroes will try. So… your heroes need to be trained to at least give them an edge.  If nothing else, some self-defense training can give that boost of confidence that makes the difference between freezing in fear or reacting quickly to send children to a protected area.  Also, there are far more common scenarios teachers face that don’t involve active shooters.  Ever hear of a school in which a teacher never had to break up a fight between two students?  We haven’t either.

¨ First Aid and CPR – No public facility (especially a school) should have a staff that is not trained in first aid and CPR.  Check with your local Fire Department, Red Cross chapter, or the American Heart Association.  For teachers, they may offer this training for free.

¨ Family Preparedness – When a school is not the site of an emergency, it’s many times part of emergency response.  Schools are generally shelters or some other form of refuge for the community in area emergencies.  Since your people are your biggest asset, they need to be trained in enhanced family disaster preparedness so that in times of crisis they know their family is safe and they can report to the school to help emergency responders and related groups care for community members seeking help.


3. Issues & Policies.  There are far more numerous threats facing schools on a daily basis than active shooter scenarios, and contingency plans are only as good as the threats perceived and vulnerabilities uncovered.  Once you become aware of a threat or potentially negative issue, what kind of policies should you have in place so that you are ready to react accordingly?  Here are a few mainstream examples:

¨ Visitor and Vendor Check-In – Do you have an open campus or secure facility?  Do you have regular vendors that are allowed instant access to the grounds or do you have a policy that all visitors must check-in on arrival?  If an incident occurs, what kind of plan do you have in place to track / locate your temporary guests?  What will your reaction be if a visitor bypasses your check-in request?

¨ Domestic Issues at Home – Many instances of workplace violence stem from domestic situations at home.  The reason for this?  Though a spouse may change residences in times of domestic turmoil, work is the one place they can usually be found.  Do you have a policy that requires staff to notify administration of pending divorce, restraining orders, stalking, or related situations that carry a potential for violent attacks?

¨ Bomb Threat Response – In this day and age, you have to take folks seriously when they make a threat.  Or do you?  The percentage of actual bombs discovered after a threat was given is extremely low.  However, a couple of school shootings were sniper scenarios where a bomb threat was called in as a ruse to get students outside of the building and in the open.  Consider this later under game-planning.

¨ _____ Threat Response – Even though we’re putting a finite list here for example purposes, don’t limit yourself.  You know your school and your area better than anyone, so look around at the other threats you may face.  Remember, true preparedness is to be All-Hazards ready.

¨ Student Cell Phones – What’s your policy about students having cell phones?  Do you find them disruptive? A means of cheating on tests?  Or are students with phones part of your reaction plan since you would have more people that could call for help?

¨ Self-Defense – What is your policy on self-defense in the case of a true attack?  What do you do if a student is forced to protect themselves from a bully?  What about a teacher facing a violent student? 

¨ Secret Evacuation – When we train schools, we tell them to not divulge the school’s evacuation destination since you don’t want to arrive at the location only to find the place so overwhelmed with parents arriving ahead of you that you can’t effectively control the scene and protect the children. 

¨ Scattered Lockdown – In almost any emergency, time is our biggest asset.  So in a shelter-in-place scenario, where do you go for protection?  Different shelter scenarios will have different answers.  For example, in a tornado, do you go to the hallways or other areas closer to the center of the building?  In an active shooter situation do you barricade the classroom doors and stay hidden?  Some corporate locations are opting for central safe-rooms on certain floors and their plan is to hustle personnel into those areas if a shooter is present.  Our feeling is that – generally speaking – this creates a target-rich environment for a shooter when people are out of their offices and in hallways heading for other locations. 


4. Lockdown Alarms. In disaster planning, there are two main types of reaction: Evacuation and Shelter-In-Place.  In our analysis work we have been amazed at the lack of focus on the shelter-in-place scenarios.  Almost everyone has a fire alarm, but very few have a shelter alarm.  Lockdown alarms are necessary for everything from active shooter, through HazMat incident, to tornadoes and they are much faster than sending an intercom message or a text alert.  Remember; in almost every emergency, time is one of our biggest assets.  A few of many things to consider with lockdown alarms:

¨ Unique Sound – Lockdown alarms should have a distinctly different sound than the fire alarm since fire is an evacuation reaction and lockdown is the exact opposite.  You never want to confuse the two.

¨ Classrooms and Commons – Lockdown alarms should be generally as accessible as the fire alarm.  None of us know what is going to happen, when it’s going to happen, or where it’s going to happen so the lockdown alarms in the commons areas should be located near the fire alarms but clearly marked and just far enough away so that no one activates the wrong one. 

¨ Location in Classrooms – In a classroom the fire alarm – if one is present – is usually located by the main exit door since fire carries an evacuation response.  Since lockdown is a shelter response, the alarm switch in the classroom should be located in the area of the room where students would go for protection.

¨ Tied to 911 Center - As with fire alarms, activation of the lockdown alarm should alert the local 911 center so law enforcement and other emergency responders can be dispatched.


5. Drills & Game-Planning.  Above, we discussed training your staff.  Here we take the training to the next level by involving the students as well as local emergency responders.

¨ Fire & Lockdown – There are two basic types of reaction: Evacuation and Shelter-In-Place. Both reactions are possible so conduct drills for both reactions on a regular basis. 

¨ Police, EMA, and SWAT – Involve your local emergency responders in some of your drills and allow the responders to hold some of their drills at your school.  They need practice also to make sure their own skills are current.  They might like to come in to a mock disaster scene to practice scene control, triage, transport, the whole nine yards.  Also, let the local SWAT team come in one weekend a quarter to practice some of their drills.  This keeps their skills sharp and also keeps them familiar with your school layout.

¨ Vary the Rendezvous – Since some scenarios see bomb threats perpetrated for the purpose of getting students out in the open, you must keep this in mind when conducting fire drills.  For that reason, consider varying the campus location where students are taken during drills.  Two quick tips here:  One, be aware of locations such as dumpsters or other areas where explosive devices could be hidden.  Two, try not to have students gather at any campus location where arriving emergency vehicles would need to park.


6. Shared Monitoring. The more eyes on security monitors, the better.  Up to a point.  How do you get better security monitoring of your location yet still protect privacy?  And where do you draw the line to make sure your abundance of surveillance isn’t its own security breach?

¨ Extra Eyes – As security analysts, one thing we constantly see is state-of-the-art monitoring systems, but with no one watching the monitors.  Many times, the only purpose the system would serve is to provide a video for police after the incident had occurred.  In any emergency situation, an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure, so if you have a video surveillance system, the more eyes watching, the better.

¨ Privacy Issues – Though you want extra eyes on your surveillance system, make sure you have the right people with access.  Though many systems available are as simple to monitor as using your smart phone (yes, there’s an App for that) you don’t want would-be perpetrators, pedophiles, or the like, accessing your video feed.

¨ Police & School Board – Two groups you might want sharing your video feed are the police department or select personnel at the school board.  The two key suggestions, though, are that the system is being monitored at all times by multiple people, and that these people are trustworthy.

¨ External Port – In working with emergency response personnel, ask if there is a particular area of campus where they would gather in the event of an active shooter scenario (or other active internal threat).  Place a hard-wired video feed port at that location so responders can tap into the video feed on arrival.


7. Anticipate the Criminal Mind. Laws are only for the law-abiding.  Our main focus of this re-released article is to help protect schools in a post-Sandy Hook world.  So though we should plan for All-Hazards type scenarios and responses, we need to zero in on intentional attacks for just a bit. Let’s look at a few examples where planning for the actions of normal people will not help us where there is malicious intent.

¨ More than Gun Violence – The largest school massacre in US history was in Bath, Michigan where a disgruntled Board of Education member used explosives to kill 38 students.  Explosives were the main weapon again in Beslan, Russia where over 380 people were killed.  When doing your game-planning and drills, don’t limit yourself to one kind of threat and NEVER think “Oh that would never happen!  Who on earth would do something like that?”  Good question.

¨ Attackers vs. Laws – Laws are only for the law-abiding.  The criminal or deranged individual intent on causing harm will ignore absolutely everything except their desire to finish what they started.  They won’t stop on command, they won’t sign in at the office, they don’t care if they’re trespassing… nothing matters.  Think of it this way.  If you stand under a storm cloud with a sign that says “rain not allowed,” the only thing you’re going to get is wet.  Keep this in mind during all your planning.


8. Fear Has No Place. The true goal of any protective plan is to make the secured site a haven of peace.  This is done when teachers, staff, and students are confident that they are protected and the safety they enjoy does not come in the form of uniformed armed guards, search dogs, or barbed wire surrounding a walled compound.  That type of environment is repressive and is not conducive to learning or anything positive. 

¨ Transparent Security – Always opt for transparent security.  This means that you have a safe and secure facility, but to the students and visitors, the security measures you have in place are not necessarily “in your face.”  For example, some of your security personnel may be plain-clothes security.  Video cameras may be in hidden locations.  Metal detectors might be built into door frames. Or, bullet-resistant doors might look like any other door, and so on.

¨ Teachers and Staff First – When planning your emergency reactions and creating your drills, do so with only your staff involved.  These folks need to work out all the “kinks” in a plan and get everyone on the same page before involving students.  If the students are part of a drill and it is obvious to them that the teachers are not familiar with the procedures, it will detract from the student’s confidence level.

¨ Drill Calmly – The only demeanor any teacher or staff member should show during a drill is a calm one, and more importantly, in an actual emergency the more calm the teacher the more calm the students.

¨ Hide & Seek – For the younger children, a simple game of hide & seek in the classroom is a shelter drill in and of itself and is fun rather than frightening.  Think of other ways to make some of your drills enjoyable.


9. Extra Security Personnel. Sadly, we live in a day and age when soft targets and locations with high terror shock value, such as schools, need extra security.  In many cases this will mean more personnel.  How do you bring on extra personnel without your school looking like an armed camp and without ruining your budget?

¨ Hire the Vet – As we mentioned before, look for crisis experience when hiring new teachers or staff.  In a related thought consider this: some districts allow teachers to carry weapons.  This concept certainly requires a lot of study, but, if any of your teachers have law enforcement or military experience then you have staff with built-in training should you decide to go that route.

¨ Plain Clothes – Some of your security should be in plain clothes so as not to be a constant reminder of danger, but also to not be a target.  In some attacks, uniformed security is targeted first to clear resistance.

¨ Private Sector PR – Some private sector security companies may offer some of their personnel at no charge to you during special events as a way to give back to their community and for a little positive PR.

¨ Special Events – Always have extra security at special events even if it does cost extra.


10. Recruit the Parents. Schools are not islands.  Schools are not baby-sitters. Schools share the parents’ goals of raising safe, intelligent, happy children.  To share these goals and add the element of enhanced security, schools and parents must work more closely than ever.

¨ Parents and the PTA - The Parent / Teachers Association is the best tool for maintaining good parental involvement.  With Social Media as it is today, there is more opportunity for communication than ever before.  Every PTA / PTO should have a Facebook account, a Twitter account, and direct contact for member parents to include direct email, phone number, and text number for mass text broadcasting if the text number is different from the main phone number. 

¨ Security and Fundraising – Considering the above notion of requiring extra security at special events, you might want to ask your PTA to help with a little extra fundraising to cover the costs.  Raising money to protect the children should be a welcome project in any school district.

¨ Teach Disaster Prep – As we discussed earlier with teaching enhanced family preparedness to teachers and staff so that they can report in times of crisis, you should also consider having a family emergency preparedness / home safety classes for your students and their families.  This is a positive way to keep safety in everyone’s mind, and safety lessons practiced at home can carry over into the classroom.


So now that we’ve discussed a few points, gone over a few concepts that may or may not be included in school emergency plans, what do we do now?  Do we push to make these ideas mandatory?  Do we simply share them as best practices?  What do we do?  We want answers NOW, don’t we?

Here’s how you can help:
Meet with your school’s administrators, preferably at the next PTA meeting.
Call your Board of Education.
Call your Senators and Representatives of your State Legislature.
Call and write your Senators and Representative in Washington, DC.
And then share this list with others.


(Copyright 2012 – Paul Purcell.  Permission is granted to share this article with anyone and everyone provided all portions remain intact.  For additional preparedness information to help your school, students, and parents, visit our articles page at  Author’s note:  The main content in this piece has been circulated since the Columbine massacre in 1999 but has been updated to include and reflect current events.)