When parents send their children to school, they expect them to be safe and cared for throughout the school day. But when an emergency presents itself, students and teachers may be in danger — and it’s imperative that all schools have procedures in place to keep children and staff out of harm’s way. However, planning for a variety of emergencies at once can be challenging for teachers and administrators. One of the best ways to stay prepared in the face of an emergency is to create a school emergency kit, which is ready to go at any moment.
Here, we’ll help you identify the supplies you should include in your emergency preparedness kit so that you and your students are ready for whatever comes your way. Use our checklist above to to help you check off essential items as you assemble your kit.
How to Build a School Emergency Preparedness Kit
To keep your school or classroom safe, arm it with a comprehensive emergency preparedness kit that includes everything you need for your students and staff.
Identify Likely Emergencies
The following are common emergencies that schools may need to prepare for:
- Natural disasters (floods, wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes)
- Power outages
- Building fires
- Landslides or avalanches
- Intruders or active shooters
- Weather (winter storms, lightning, and extreme cold or heat)
- Gas or carbon monoxide leaks
- Global health emergencies like COVID-19
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has compiled the National Risk Index for Natural Hazards — a map that schools can use to see the types of emergencies for which they may be at risk, based on their location. Access the interactive map here to gain a better understanding of your likelihood of risk exposure to hazards and emergencies.
The emergencies most likely in your area will determine some of the items you include in your kit. For example, if the area your school is located in is at risk for hurricanes, you’ll want to make sure your kit includes an NOAA weather radio and extra batteries to help you keep up with changing weather conditions. You can find resources for preparing for each type of emergency at ready.gov, as well as more information on emergency preparation for schools.
Assemble Your Emergency Preparedness Kit
When assembling your school’s emergency preparedness kit, you can refer to the basic emergency supplies recommendations government organizations have made. That list of essential supplies generally includes the following:
- First aid kit
- Food and water (enough for up to 72 hours)
- Water bottles or pouches
- Water purification tablets
- Non-perishable food, such as:
- Nutrition bars
- Canned foods
- Dried fruits and veggies
- Disposable plates, cups, and utensils
- Hygiene and sanitation
- Toilet paper roll
- Wet wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Toilet bags with chemicals
- 5-gallon bucket with toilet seat lid
- Tarpaulin and duct tape to create privacy
- Personal hygiene items, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs, brushes, contact lens solution, and feminine products
- Plastic garbage bags
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Batteries in other sizes
- Emergency glow sticks or signal
Remember to always take into account students or personnel with special medical needs when assembling your kit, and create a plan for getting emergency medical supplies to students if they are stored in the nurse’s office or another location.
You may need multiple kits depending on how many people are in your classroom. For example, some schools give each student their own individual emergency kit, which comes with food and other basic emergency supplies to be used at their discretion.
Emergency Prep Kit vs. Go-Kit
All classrooms should be equipped with the emergency supplies listed above — and they should also have a go-kit. A classroom go-kit is a portable supply of essential emergency preparation supplies, as well as information that the teacher can use to better manage the situation. A classroom go-kit should be in a backpack or bucket with a handle so it’s ready to grab at a moment’s notice. Every classroom should have a go-kit on hand for any type of emergency or evacuation. It’s a handy and convenient resource for teachers to ensure they have all of the essential information they need to manage the health and safety of students.
Consider adding the following items to your classroom go-kit:
- A list of all students and teachers, with photos, and their emergency contact information
- A list of students and classroom personnel with special healthcare needs, including a list of prescription medicines or dietary restrictions
- Information about school emergency procedures such as evacuation plans
- A whistle and clothing to identify the teacher, such as a brightly colored hat or vest
- A first aid kit with instructions
- Age-appropriate resources to help students stay entertained, such as board games, playing cards, a ball, coloring and drawing supplies, or even video games (depending on the age of the children and what can fit into your kit)
Depending on your school’s needs, you can also assemble an administration go-kit to be used by school officials. This kit should include all of the above items, as well as the following:
- A list of all teachers and school personnel, with photos
- A flashlight with extra batteries
- Instructions for turning off school utilities
- An emergency communication device, such as a satellite phone or two-way radio
- Information about family reunification procedures
If you don’t want to put together your own go-kit, you can also find ready-made ready-made kits that come complete with many of the essential items you need in an emergency.
Where to Store Your Emergency Preparedness Kit and Go-Kit
Both emergency preparedness kits and go-kits should be stored in a central location, and all classroom personnel and students should be aware of the locations. Teachers can also label the kits or the cabinets they’re stored in to prevent confusion during an emergency.
Maintaining Your Kit Over Time
After emergency kits are used — and as classes change every semester — schools need to regularly maintain and review emergency preparedness kits. It’s recommended that you review your kit before the start of every school year. Maintaining your emergency preparedness kit can include the following:
- Add an updated list of student names, parent contact information, and notes on medications or special needs.
- Replace expired items.
- Check all batteries and replace as needed.
- Update evacuation procedures and other emergency plans if they have changed.
How Your Kit Can Help Children Cope in an Emergency
Emergencies can greatly affect children. It helps if the children see a teacher or other adult acting calmly and appropriately during a disaster, and it’s also important to know how to help them cope while the emergency is happening. When classrooms are equipped with emergency preparedness kits, teachers can help children feel safe before and during an emergency. Schools can also take steps after an emergency to ensure the well-being of their students.
- Before: Review your classroom’s emergency procedures and explain what’s included in your classroom emergency kit. This can help children feel secure in the face of an emergency, as they know that you’re prepared.
- During: Stay calm, and reassure children that everything will be okay. Depending on the children’s ages, you can be transparent about what’s happening. For stress relief and entertainment, use the cards or board games you packed in your go-kit.
- After: Give children the opportunity to talk about what happened, and how they feel about it. If necessary, your school can also provide counseling services. You can find guidelines for helping students recover from traumatic events here.
Caring for Children With Special Healthcare Needs
During stressful emergencies and their resulting evacuations or safety precautions, children with special healthcare needs require more attention and assistance. Some could face challenges when it comes to moving from one location to another, communicating their feelings, or managing a stressful transition. To ensure the safety and security of children with special healthcare needs, take the following considerations when compiling your emergency preparedness kit:
- Talk to the child’s parents or guardians about what they might need during an emergency, especially if it means the child will be separated overnight or longer.
- Make a list of essential medications or medical equipment the child needs, and be sure their parents or guardians are aware that the child needs to have them with them in their backpack or in a classroom kit at all times. You may also be able to include these medications or equipment in your go-kit. If your school prohibits these supplies from being stored in the classroom or in a child’s backpack, they may be stored in the nurse’s office or the front office. Make sure you have a plan in place for getting these critical items to students in the case of an emergency.
School Emergency Kit and Go-Kit Checklist
We’ve compiled a list of all the items that should be in your school emergency preparedness kit and go-kit. Our list includes FEMA and CDC-recommended items, as well as some suggestions for items that may be relevant to your classroom. Use our checklist to check off your items as you put together your own emergency preparedness kit.
Additional Emergency Planning Resources for Schools
Each type of emergency — from hurricanes and wildfires to landslides and epidemics — requires its own detailed preparation, and that should also include an emergency preparedness plan. You can find sample emergency plans at cdc.gov and healthinschools.org. Access further information on emergency planning at schoolsafety.gov.
Start Preparing for Future Emergencies Today
A school that prepares for emergencies ahead of time can keep its students, teachers, and staff safe, and jump right into action when the situation calls for it. Don’t wait until an emergency has already happened to start preparing. The safety of your school depends on it.