Fire Drills While Social Distancing: 14 Tips and Ideas

14 Tips and Ideas to Follow During Fire Drills While Social Distancing

COVID-19 is impacting schools in major ways. Many sports and extracurricular activities have been postponed. Lunch has been moved from cafeterias to classrooms. But there are things the pandemic can’t stop – such as fires. This means fire drills are still a necessity. Here are 15 tips for socially distant fire drills. 

1. Understand the rules for your state.

For example, Ohio requires six fire drills per year for each group of students. This means if Group 1 attends Monday and Wednesday, and Group 2 attends Tuesday and Thursday, each group needs to participate in 6 fire drills.

2. Be even more sensitive to trauma.

COVID-19 has been traumatic for many students and being back in school is scary. Adding fire drills to the mix will increase that anxiety for some students. Check in with students you think might be fearful privately.

3. Focus on the process, not the speed.

Many states have relaxed the speed requirements of fire drills in order to maintain social distancing. Walking students to the evacuation area while maintaining a six-foot distance between each child is bound to add time.  Make sure students understand the process, even if fire drills are slower than in the past.

4. Update your emergency bag.

Add hand sanitizer, Lysol wipes, disposable masks, and a tape measurer. If you have alternating schedules, make sure you have both attendance rosters for each group of students in your emergency bag.

5. Notify online students what’s happening.

If you’re teaching in person while also live-streaming to students at home, don’t forget about the online kiddos. Give them a heads-up if you know a fire drill is going to occur or take a second to tell them what’s happening. It would be terrifying for some students to watch their teacher and classmates suddenly flee the room without knowing why.

6. Make sure plexiglass barriers don’t impact evacuation.

Many schools have put up plexiglass partitions between desks, in the hallway, etc. Practice evacuating and make sure they don’t get in the way.

7. Assign students into emergency groups.

The groups should contain 4-6 children. Each child should know who is in their group. The groups should line up together during fire drills. In the case of a real emergency, group members will quickly be able to inform an adult if someone is missing. During drills, the groups make it easier to stagger the class. Group 1 lines up, then group 2, etc. 

8.  Practice before the drill.

Do your own unofficial fire drills as a class. Practice walking in a calm, quiet line six feet apart to your class’ assigned evacuation spot. Then instruct students to line up six feet apart in rows according to their emergency groups. Practice social distancing while walking back to the classroom. Doing your own drills will help anxious students feel more prepared, provide an opportunity to get some fresh air, movement, and sunshine, and give you valuable insight you can pass on to administration about the process.

9. Bring in an expert.

Invite a firefighter to come to talk to your class about fire safety and explain why we do fire drills. This can be done in person or through a video session. 

10. Watch videos of fire evacuations.

Since fire drills will look different and move slower than what will happen during an actual emergency, watching videos of more typical evacuations will help students prepare. Include students learning from home in the fire safety discussions.

11. Make it fun.

Have a special song your class quietly sings during fire drills. Or ask them to count how many birds, white sneakers, or green shirts they see while walking and waiting. Most of us need a little extra help staying calm these days.

12. Include online students in conversations about fire drills.

Yes, they’re home now, but they might return to in-person learning at some point during the school year, so they need to understand the process, too.

13. Evaluate after the drill.

Discuss what went right and what needs improvement. Talk about what would be different in an actual emergency. 

14. Give students explicit permission to abandon social distancing in a true emergency.

Experts advise telling students you’ll alert them if it’s a real emergency and not a practice drill. In the case of a real emergency, students need to know they can drop social distancing to follow the evacuation plans as quickly as possible. 

Like most things while COVID-19 teaching, fire drills are going to look different this year. Preparing for yet another source of emergency may be overwhelming for some students (and teachers), but discussion and practice will make it less intimidating.


14 Tips and Ideas to Follow During Fire Drills While Social Distancing

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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed., an editor at Bored Teachers, is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She's been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga. Connect with her at rachael.m@boredteachers.com
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