Pandemic threats: A checklist for district preparedness planning

A checklist for district preparedness planning

Pandemic preparedness and response plans will differ, as each school district needs to tailor its plans according to the unique set of circumstances it faces. This checklist highlights the major points that every district should consider when shaping its plan.

Planning and coordination

  • Find out who's in charge. Identify the state and local authorities responsible for officially declaring a public health emergency.
  • Establish a district team. Form a committee of key district stakeholders to oversee the development of the district's emergency plan.
  • Set up an incident command system to manage the execution of the district's plan. An ICS is a standardized organization structure that establishes a line of authority, common terminology and procedures to be followed.
  • Get everybody on the same page. Coordinate with the local and/or state health department and state education agencies to ensure compatibility with their pandemic plans and ICS's.
  • Build accountability into the plan. Define roles for those executing the district plan. Include timelines, deliverables and performance measures.
  • Learn about surge capacity plans.
  • Familiarize yourself with the local health department's plan for dealing with surge capacity, and learn if and how schools will be involved.
  • Anticipate special needs. Consider how students' special needs will be met outside of school. Also work with the local health department to plan psychosocial support services for staff, students and families.
  • Develop a surveillance system to alert the local health department to a substantial increase in absenteeism among students.
  • Review, revise and share. Implement an exercise to test the district plan and revise it periodically. Share what your school district has learned with other districts.

Continuity of student learning and core operations

  • Consider all possibilities. Develop scenarios to assess how staff and student absences would impact learning, extracurricular activities and school closings.
  • Develop plans for outside-the-classroom instruction.
  • Develop procedures to ensure the continuity of instruction in the event of school closures. Consider Web-based distance instruction, telephone trees, mailed assignments, and instruction using local radio or television stations.
  • Anticipate essential functions. Develop a continuity of operations plan for essential central office functions, including payroll and ongoing communication with students and parents.

Infection control policies and procedures

  • Educate the district. Work with the local health department to promote infection-prevention procedures at schools, such as hand hygiene and cough/sneeze etiquette.
  • Keep supplies well-stocked. Provide sufficient and accessible infection prevention supplies, such as soap, waterless hand hygiene products, tissues and disposal receptacles.
  • Develop sick-leave policy. Establish policies for staff and student sick leave absences unique to a pandemic flu. Consider non-punitive, liberal leave to reinforce a stay-at-home policy for those with known or suspected illness.
  • Establish a send-home policy. Develop policies for staff and students suspected to be ill or who become ill at school, and include a procedure for transporting ill students from school.
  • Check that school-based health facilities conform to those recommended for health-care settings.

Communication planning

  • Determine how the district will communicate with staff, students and families.
  • Develop platforms, such as hotlines, telephone trees, dedicated Web sites, and local radio or TV stations, for communicating pandemic status and actions. Identify district spokespersons and media liaisons.
  • Ensure accessibility. Establish language, culture and reading level appropriateness in communications.
  • Include community leaders representing different language and/or ethnic groups in the dissemination of public health messages.
  • Inform people in advance. Be sure that all members of the district know who is legally authorized to execute the district's operational plan and what the plan is. Advise district staff, students and families where to find up-to-date and reliable pandemic information from federal, state and local public health sources.
  • Join the network. Develop and maintain contact with key public health and education stakeholders, and use this network to obtain and provide regular updates as the influenza pandemic unfolds.
  • Promote a healthy and aware community. Disseminate information from public health sources covering: routine infection control, such as proper hand hygiene and cough/sneeze etiquette; pandemic influenza fundamentals, such as signs and symptoms of infection and modes of transmission; and personal and family protection and response strategies, such as social distancing and at-home care of ill students and family members.
  • Assess the district's readiness. Review, test and update communication plans regularly.

Thanks to our neighbor association to the north, WSSDA, for allowing OSBA to adapt its 2006 Hot Topics publication on pandemic flu.

View all pandemic and outbreak threats resources