Frequently Asked Questions about Emergency Preparedness
APS works to ensure the safety of your children in the event that a serious incident occurs while school is in session. Each school staff has:
- updated its emergency plans and met with public safety officials for them to review plans, monitor drills and provide professional input on any school-specific safety issues,
- held staff orientations and reviewed emergency procedures,
- held “shelter-in-place” and “lock-down” drills,
- identified HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system shut-off valves and periodically scheduled training in their operation,
- received and stored emergency water,
- received updated weather and emergency alert radios, and
- updated plans for students while on field trips or at away practices.
We coordinate our efforts with local authorities and agencies to help ensure the best possible care for our students. The following list of frequently asked questions and their answers are provided to clarify expectations in a variety of possible situations.
Q: What if something occurs when students are away from the school building- on a bus, field trip, athletic event, etc?
A: Bus drivers all have two-way radios and will be directed to take students who are on buses to the nearest school or public building and maintain radio contact. Students on field trips or at away practices will be directed to enter the nearest building. Cell phone contact will be maintained with these groups.
Q: What is the policy for field trips?
A: Decisions about local, national and international trips are made on a case-by-case basis. For international field trips, Arlington Public Schools does not allow travel to countries in “current travel warning” and “current public announcements” on the U.S. Department of State Web page. In keeping with the usual practice, parents who do not want their children to participate in field trips may opt out of them.
Q: What does “shelter-in-place” mean? What will happen if schools are directed to do this?
A: If an event occurs that involves a chemical, biological or radiological contaminant, public safety officials may direct us to “shelter- in-place.” If that occurs, the school will be locked and secured. Signs will be posted stating no one is to enter or leave the site and students and staff will move to identified, safe locations in the building. HVAC systems will be shut down and exterior doors will be secured to decrease exposure to outside air. Water and food supplies will be available. Safety officials indicate there would be 10 to 20 minutes lead time for the alert, allowing time for students in portable classrooms and on school grounds to enter the building.
Q: How long do you expect a “shelter-in-place” situation will last?
A: Public safety and health officials advise that this condition would probably last for a matter of hours rather than days. This is the amount of time needed to isolate people while the effects of a chemical or biological incident dissipate. During this period of time students will not be released to anyone outside the building and outsiders will not be allowed into the building.
Q: What will happen if schools must “shelter” students in the buildings? How is that different from “shelter-in-place?”
A: If it is not possible to release students (traffic jams that prohibit buses from getting to or from school, damage to the surrounding area making a school inaccessible, etc.), it may be necessary to temporarily shelter students. If directed to shelter students, school administrators will coordinate efforts with county agencies to provide for the needs of students and staff. Students will be released as parents are able to reach school. The Red Cross and other agencies will participate in managing the situation.
Q: What does it mean when a school is in “lock-down?”
A: A lock-down may occur when police or other safety officials determine it is necessary to contain students and staff in their classrooms with doors locked and building access limited to specific identified staff and safety officials. This may occur if there is a threat to the physical safety of students and/or staff, if there is a dangerous intruder in the building or for other reasons as determined necessary.
Q: What is “secure the building?”
A: In a situation where the police or other officials determine we need to keep students in the building and lock the outside doors because of a concern in the community (nearby bank robbery, for example) we will follow their direction and “secure the building” until directed otherwise.
Q: Are there any situations when you would evacuate from a school? What will happen if that occurs?
A: If an incident occurs within a building, it may be necessary to evacuate students from a school. The destination of the evacuated students will depend upon the incident, the number of students evacuated and the conditions in surrounding areas. Evacuations will be coordinated with safety and health officials to ensure the needs of students are met.
Q: How can I find the most-up-to-date information about the status of school operations?
A: Parents are asked to refrain from calling the schools or administrative offices for this information to avoid tying up telephone lines that are vitally needed in an emergency. Information about any changes in operations – whether at an individual school or system wide – will be communicated through local media outlets, on Arlington Cable Channel 70, this website, via APS School Talk, and by recorded message (in English and Spanish) on our toll-free hotline at 1-866-322-4277.