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Crisis Recovery: The Reunification Process

Dec 17, 2014 6:30:00 AM

ReunificationActs of violence, acts of terror, tornadoes, floods, blizzards, fires. Crisis happens. And these emergencies ignite anxiety. Preparing plans for crisis communication and how to reunite families before an incident helps you from further complicating the chaos.

Though this discussion focuses on schools, these strategies can also be applied to incidents in the workplace.

Reunification Is All About The Process

It consists of managing parents, students, and staff. It has to be strategic, otherwise it will quickly spin out of control.

Keep in mind, parents will only be concerned about one thing: getting their child/children into their arms. They won’t care about your process or your rules. But as the school, you are concerned about the wellbeing of everyone – students, teachers, staff – in your care. If your team is ready with a plan, they will be more effective in handling the emotions of parents in order to keep the reunification process moving.

Responsibilities For Crisis Recovery

Accountability will be on everyone’s shoulders. Tracking the students, whether they are at the scene, in triage, at the hospital, or at the reunification site(s), will be absolutely critical.

All parties should be clear on their responsibilities.

  • Police – securing the scene of the incident, conducting the investigation
  • Fire/EMS – treating anyone who is injured, transporting individuals to the hospital
  • School (or business) – handling the individuals who are not hurt and have been released from the scene

Though each party has their own duties, they must also collaborate. For instance, a representative from the school or business needs to serve as the liaison with the police department to assist with details regarding the incident and the facility. The police would also need to have a presence at the reunification area to help with security.

With these responsibilities and collaboration also comes the need for an extremely disciplined crisis communication plan

Establishing Reunification Sites

As part of your pre-planning, establish multiple reunification sites and develop a strategy for clearly communicating where they are located. For a school corporation, the best practice is to arrange 2 sites within walking distance and 2 sites within in driving distance. Having these sites determined in advance is important. The last thing you want to do is change a location mid-stream.

The Logistics Of Reunification Sites

When identifying your sites and planning the process to follow during recovery, consider the following:

  • Traffic - Many people will be converging on a single location. Is there significant space for the vehicles? How can you properly control the traffic flow?
  • Separate Areas – Children should be in an area not visible to parents. A parent will not stay in line to follow the procedures if they can see their child sitting 50 feet away. Human nature will take control and they will run to their child. I would do the same thing! But understanding this and planning your site accordingly is crucial.
  • Parent Check-In Area – When establishing the area for parent check-in, also keep in mind the weather. Extreme and uncomfortable conditions will only make the situation worse. If parents are waiting in the cold and snow or the hot sun, you now have to worry about their health…and their patience, which is short already.
  • Student Area – Away from parent check-in, the student area should be safe and protected. Think about what support and entertainment you can provide. Short films, videos, and music would be better than a movie. If you’re playing Frozen, the kids may not want to leave in the middle of the movie…leading to even more impatient and unhappy parents.
  • Instructions – The parents should be met by a “greeter” and given clear instructions to help them understand the process.
  • Paperwork and Identification – There should be a reunification paperwork system in use, such as a reunification card. As part of this process, procedures are needed to properly identify the individual as the guardian of the specific child.
  • Line System – Using a clear and controlled line system will greatly improve the process. Such as standing in line for a ride at an amusement park or security checks at the airport.
  • Have a “Runner” – Again, parents are desperate to get to their child. Allowing the parent to go into the student area can increase the chaos. Instead, once the parent has filled out any necessary paperwork and has been identified, send a runner to retrieve the child.

A Powerful Resource

The reunification system established by the “I Love U Guys” Foundation is a beneficial resource. Their Standard Reunification Method “provides schools and district safety teams proven methods for planning, practicing, and achieving a successful reunification.”

The recovery from a crisis begins during the crisis, not once it is complete. Pre-planning and clear communication is critical to the success of your reunification


Written by Gibson

Gibson is a team of risk management and employee benefits professionals with a passion for helping leaders look beyond what others see and get to the proactive side of insurance. As an employee-owned company, Gibson is driven by close relationships with their clients, employees, and the communities they serve. The first Gibson office opened in 1933 in Northern Indiana, and as the company’s reach grew, so did their team. Today, Gibson serves clients across the country from offices in Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Utah.