Emergency preparedness and response in New Zealand schools : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Emergency Management at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
International disaster risk reduction efforts prioritise school safety. Providing a safe learning environment for students and ensuring their continued access to education after an emergency has a positive influence on student, family, and community resilience. Existing school-based emergency management literature is limited. The project aimed to investigate current emergency preparedness and response activities in New Zealand schools, and identify key practices that support efforts to keep students safe during emergencies. A multiphase mixed methods research design, underpinned by a pragmatic philosophical approach, was employed to conduct three separate but linked studies that investigated: Emergency preparedness in schools (Study 1); Emergency management requirements and expectations of schools (Study 2); and Emergency response in schools (Study 3).
Study 1 employed a survey to collect quantitative (n=355) and qualitative (n=514) data from schools throughout New Zealand about their experiences participating in the nationwide 2012 New Zealand ShakeOut earthquake drill, and the types of emergency preparedness activities undertaken. Findings identified lessons learned, and presented ways in which drills can be linked to other aspects of school preparedness. Schools were also found to undertake a range of preparedness activities (e.g., develop emergency plans, conduct frequent drills, and provide students with hazards education). However, differences in preparedness levels were identified, suggesting that some schools may be under-prepared to keep students safe in emergencies. A lack of clarity in the legislative requirements for school-based emergency management was proposed as a possible reason for differences in preparedness.
Study 2 combined interviews of three emergency management practitioners with a review of New Zealand legislation, policy, and guidelines to identify the preparedness activities New Zealand schools are required to undertake to ensure the safety of the students in their care. The legislation was found to be generic, at times ambiguous, and schools were not provided with clear guidance. As a result, it was recommended that preparedness benchmarks be established and that standard operating procedures for core emergency response actions (i.e., shelter-in-place, lockdown, building evacuation, relocation, and family reunification) be developed to provide a consistent approach to school-based preparedness efforts.
Studies 1 and 2 discussed emergency preparedness in New Zealand schools. However, there remained a need to investigate the link between preparing for and responding to emergencies by investigating how schools responded to real emergency events. Study 3 used three case studies to explore how three schools responded in a range of emergency events. Findings included the identification of generic, recurring response activities across a selection of emergency types, which were used to develop a six-stage school-based emergency response model. The lessons learned from participant’s first hand experiences of various emergency events enabled the identification of factors that contribute to an effective emergency response, including activities undertaken before, during, and after an emergency.
Research exploring emergency management in New Zealand schools is still in its infancy. This project has contributed significant knowledge to understanding how New Zealand schools prepare for and respond to emergencies to keep their students safe. Findings from the research may also have relevance for an international audience.