Crisis Preparedness

Crisis and Emergency Preparedness

County and Schools Work Together

The basic Emergency Operations Plan for Prince William County incorporates Prince William County Public Schools (PWCS) in a supporting role to the Prince William County Department of Social Services. PWCS’ area of responsibility during a county emergency consists of the following components of the County’s Emergency Operations Plan:

  • Providing emergency shelter and temporary housing. All school sites are subject to emergency shelter designation.
  • Providing emergency and temporary food services.
  • Providing transportation for displaced persons.

PWCS supporting services, including custodial, food service, maintenance, and security, will be provided on a stand-by basis, and ready to support the shelter operations when notified.

Security Measures in Place

Security measures in place within PWCS and buildings comply with nationally recognized best practices and ensure that the school division is responsive to various crises and emergencies. These measures include:

  • Review of local, national, and global issues affecting school safety and security by the Superintendent of Schools, Executive Leadership Team, and Risk Management and Security.
  • School security officers (SSOs) funded for every high, middle, and elementary school.
  • School resource officers (SROs) assigned to all middle and high schools.
  • Community safety officers (CSOs) (armed) assigned to patrol and support elementary schools.
  • Security patrol department that provides around-the-clock visibility and support to all schools.
  • Middle, high, and nontraditional schools have safety screening technology at entrances (beginning the third week of the 2023-24 school year).
  • SSOs wear a standardized uniform across all schools.
  • Staff wear high visibility safety vests to quickly identify school staff when outside.
  • School security residents on most campuses.
  • Threat assessment teams at all schools.
  • Crisis planning collaboration with first responders.
  • Say Something anonymous tip line, 1-844-5-SAYNOW, download the Say Something app, or visit the Say Something website.
  • Critical Incident Teams to support student and staff mental health pre-crisis and post-crisis.
  • After-action review of significant security events with all stakeholders.
  • Nationally recognized school security best practices in place for crisis response.
  • Security cameras in all schools and on school buses.
  • Visitor identification system that identifies registered sex offenders.
  • Emergency messaging systems in place to communicate with parents.

Crisis Response Readiness of Schools

School Board policies and the division’s “Crisis Management Plan” are in place to ensure staff and students’ safety through nationally recognized best practices to identify, manage, and resolve school crises. The “Crisis Management Plan” outlines guidelines for staff and students on how to respond to school crises with the deployment of the Crisis Response Team and the support of first responders.

Each school has emergency response plans reviewed each summer by the PWCS’ Risk Management and Security Department. Schools have site-specific crisis plans for hold, secure the building, lockdown, evacuation, shelter in place, and accountability of students and staff. There are 15 crisis drills mandated that schools complete each year, including a training video that all staff and students review regarding crisis terminology and response actions.

The Transportation Department coordinates children's safe return to their homes or alternate shelter locations during reunification. Should a crisis/emergency occur while students are transported to or from school, school bus drivers will contact the Transportation Department for instructions. If necessary, parents/guardians will be informed of an alternate location for picking up their children via the school division’s crisis/messaging system.

Emergency needs are met with the assistance of a crisis response team that is integral to each school’s “Crisis Management Plan.” The school principal designates the crisis response team, including school administrators, security, and other designated staff members.

Critical incident teams, including school counselors, social workers, nurses, and psychologists, stand ready to assist schools with students' and staff's social/emotional needs during and after emergencies.

Know the Terms

PWCS uses standard terms to communicate with families. We encourage families to familiarize themselves with the below terms.


Hold icon

A hold is initiated when staff and students must remain in their classrooms or stay out of open areas or hallways. A Hold may be initiated during an altercation in a hallway, a medical issue, or other developing situation. All staff and students are to remain in their classroom or area, even if there is a scheduled class change, until the “all clear” is announced by the school administration.

Secure the Building

Secure the Building icon

Staff will secure the building when there is a potential threat in the vicinity of the school. This action is typically initiated due to police action in the area. To ensure the safety of students, the school is secured from outside entry, and visitors are closely scrutinized; some may be denied entry, depending on the event and direction from public safety officials or the Risk Management and Security Department. Secure the Building signs will be posted at the main entrance doors, and the education process continues. The school will remain in this status until cleared by public safety officials.

Lockdown with “Defend Options”

Lockdown icon

A lockdown event occurs when there is an immediate hostile threat to the school staff and students. The threat may be inside the school or on school grounds. The education process stops, all school activities cease, and 911 is called. A lockdown announcement is made, and all staff and students seek cover and concealment until police arrive. While in lockdown, other options can lead to your survival. If exposed to an immediate threat inside your school or lockdown room, you may need to consider defend options, including evacuating using a nearby exit. All staff and students remain in lockdown until released by the police or school administration.


Evacuate icon

Evacuate (evacuation) is initiated when there is a need to move students and staff from one location to another for safety reasons. This may be an on-site evacuation due to a power outage or mechanical failure that would disrupt the school day. This may be an off-site evacuation due to a gas leak or fire where staying in the building is no longer safe. The classroom teacher or administrator is usually responsible for initiating an evacuation. The directives or actions may vary for fire, bomb threat, or other emergencies. Other directions may be advised during an evacuation, and students and staff should be prepared to follow specific instructions from staff or first responders.

Shelter in Place

Shelter in Place icon

Shelter in place occurs when harmful external atmospheric conditions may exist. These potential conditions or attacks may be biological, chemical, nuclear, naturally occurring, or radiological in nature. To ensure the safest environment, all students and staff will be brought into the main school structure and the site secured from entry. Shelter in Place signs will be posted at the main entrance doors and the education process stops. Neutral pressure is created in the school/facility by closing all windows and doors and shutting down the HVAC system so that contaminated air will not be drawn inside. School officials will watch for students or staff who may exhibit exposure symptoms and contact 911 as needed. Events such as a biological threat may require students to remain in school for an extended period. It is the division’s goal to return students to their parent/guardian as soon as it is determined safe to do so. The school division will maintain close contact with and follow the directions from public safety and health officials. Updates will be provided via school communication channels.

Keeping Informed Through Crisis/Emergency Messages

PWCS transmits emergency information via one or more of the following methods:

  • School-to-Parent messages (email, text, and phone)
  • Alerts posted on and school websites
  • PWCS postings on Facebook and Twitter
  • Official information provided to local radio, TV, and news outlets
  • PWCS-TV (Comcast cable channel 18, Verizon cable channel 36)
  • PWCS E-News subscription service
  • PWCS Information line: 703-791-2776 (when directed)

Unofficial information received via phone calls or social media may spread rumors or lack accurate, up-to-date information, even when senders are “on the scene.” PWCS will provide official, accurate information, and timely updates quickly. Keep phone lines accessible. Please do not call schools in emergencies so that lines can be used to handle the situation.

Keeping Children Safe

Our priority is keeping children safe. In many circumstances, school is the safest place for children. However, outdoor activities, sports events, and field trips may be canceled to reduce any potential danger to students.

Field Trips

Field trips will be canceled divisionwide during a crisis or emergency. Cancellation information will be announced via the school division’s messaging system.

Students Requiring Medication

Parents/guardians of students requiring medication are asked to ensure the school has an appropriate amount of medication. The appropriate amount should be based on advice from the student’s physician.

Bus Transportation Under National Terrorism Advisory System Alert

Should a crisis/emergency occur while students are transported to or from school, school bus drivers will contact the Transportation Department for instructions. Parents/guardians will be informed of the parent/guardian-student alternate shelter location via the school messaging system if necessary. Reunification of students and parents will occur at the alternate shelter. Parents/guardians must produce valid identification to pick up their children.

Tornado Alerts

The school division’s “Crisis Management Plan” provides detailed instruction to schools on what actions to take when a tornado watch or warning is issued. All schools and administrative offices have a weather radio to receive immediate notification when these alerts are issued. When a tornado warning is issued, all students and staff will move to the school’s designated “safe zones,” be prepared to give the “drop and tuck” command, and stay in safe zones until the warning advisory is lifted. Everyone on buses located on school property will move inside the building. Buses traveling on nearby roads are to proceed to the nearest school to seek shelter in coordination with the Transportation dispatcher.

Earthquake Response Actions

The division’s “Crisis Management Plan” provides detailed instructions to schools on what actions to take when an earthquake occurs. Staff and students indoors will drop to the ground, take cover, and hold on until the shaking stops. Once the shaking stops, evacuate to designated areas. Staff and students outdoors will move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires until the shaking stops.

Parent/Guardian-Student Reunification Process

Evacuation of Schools

  • To further ensure the safety of our students and staff, please do not rush to school to pick up your child. This will only create additional traffic that may impede needed emergency vehicles and your presence at the site could delay the evacuation process. Children and parents/guardians will be reunited safely, orderly, and timely.
  • School will not automatically be canceled in a crisis/emergency. School may be the safest place for students and staff. The school division will ensure that students are safe inside their schools until the threat has been reduced or eliminated.
  • Even if students contact you directly from their cell phone asking that you pick them up, please wait for the official word from the school or school division before coming to the school, as misinformation is often rampant during emergencies.
  • If the situation requires transporting students, parents/guardians will be informed of alternate shelter location(s) via the school division’s messaging system.
  • The school division’s website ( is regularly updated and is always a good place to go for the most accurate and up-to-date information.
  • Should public safety officials call for a school evacuation, students and staff members may be safely transported by bus to a designated parent/guardian-student alternate shelter location. Students may be held at this alternate shelter site for several reasons until release is approved by public safety or health officials, depending on the circumstances of the event.
  • Parents/guardians will be permitted to pick up their children unless public safety or school officials have restricted access to the school. This may occur during a shelter in place or secure the building scenario or another event.

Release of Students to Parents/Guardians

  • Parents/guardians will be permitted to pick up their children unless public safety or school officials have restricted access to the school. This may occur during a shelter in place or secure the building scenario or another event.
  • Students will only be released to those authorized in ParentVUE or who have written permission from a parent or guardian.
  • Parents/guardians must present proper identification for students to be released from an alternate shelter location.

Coping in a Crisis Checklist

When Crisis Occurs: A Quick Reference for Parents/Guardians

A crisis or safety concern may occur anytime in our community or neighboring communities. Children may be confused and frightened by the information they hear in conversations and news reports and will look to adults for guidance on reacting. The following quick reference offers parents/guardians suggestions for establishing a sense of security and safety to help their children cope in a crisis. Additionally, following a crisis, the school psychologist, school social worker, school counselors, and members of the school division’s Critical Incident Team are available to assist students.

Emotional Support
  • Limit your child's exposure to newspapers and televised news reports. Repetitive discussion of the situation may re-traumatize a child.
  • Be honest with your children about what has occurred and provide facts about what has happened. Use age-appropriate terms for better understanding.
  • Encourage your child to talk to you about their feelings and concerns. Share your feelings with your child.
  • Spend extra time with your child, especially doing something fun or relaxing for both of you.
  • Hugs can reassure your child that they are loved.
  • Watch for ongoing signs of difficulty, which could indicate that your child may need additional help. Some warning signs are withdrawal from social contact, change in eating or sleeping habits, nightmares, and unusual clinging.
Safety Support
  • Review basic safety precautions.
  • Review family safety procedures so your children feel prepared for an emergency.
  • Monitor and supervise your child’s outdoor (play) activities.
  • Know with whom and where your child is always.
  • Prearrange a place your children should go if you are delayed and are not home at the end of the school day.
  • Remind your child to always report any suspicious persons or activity to a trusted adult.

Say Something Anonymous Reporting System

Information about drugs, weapons, or other factors that may harm the school environment should be reported via the “Say Something” Anonymous Reporting System. Say Something is explicitly designed for students in grades 6-12 and staff to report serious or potentially violent concerns of unsafe behavior or threats of harm to self or others. Say Something is a youth violence prevention program provided at no cost to PWCS.

“Tipsters” can send reports on anything from school threats they have seen or overheard to personal crises, including sexual harassment, self-harm, and depression. The system enables school administrators and law enforcement to create effective interventions and intervene in situations with at-risk individuals to help prevent violence, suicide, bullying, self-harm, and other forms of threatening behavior. All tips submitted receive an immediate response from one of the highly skilled crisis counselors at the Sandy Hook Promise National Crisis Center; this person then determines the necessary support steps. When credible tips are received that are life-threatening and involve an imminent threat, the crisis center will immediately contact local 911 dispatch and involve law enforcement, then notify central office staff and school-based representatives, even after hours. Users can submit a tip by calling 1-844-5-SAYNOW or visiting the Say Something website. The free app is available for download from the App Store and Google Play Store, where students can submit tips instantly. Once downloaded, it will ask for a four-digit code you select and remember.

As always, please call 911 in cases of immediate emergency.

Say Something logo QR code for Say Something

Updated: August 8, 2023