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 a variety of crises and emergencies. These measures include:

  • Review of local, national, and global issues that affect school safety and security by the Superintendent of Schools, Cabinet, 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.
  • SSOs wear a standardized uniform across all schools.
  • Staff wear high visibility safety vests to easily 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 support of first responders.

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

The Transportation Department is responsible for coordinating the safe return of children to their homes or to alternate shelter locations during reunification. Should a crisis/emergency occur while students are being 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 an integral part of each school’s “Crisis Management Plan.” The crisis response team is designated by the school principal and includes school administrators, security, and other designated staff members.

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

National Terrorism Advisory System Alerts

The National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) is designed to communicate information about terrorist threats by providing timely, detailed information to the American public. All Americans share responsibility for the nation's security and should always be aware of the heightened risk of terrorist attacks in the United States and what they should do. Subscribe to NTAS’ alerts.

Say Something Anonymous Reporting System

Information about drugs, weapons, or other factors which may be harmful to the school environment should be reported via the “Say Something” Anonymous Reporting System. Say Something is designed specifically 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 from the national nonprofit organization Sandy Hook Promise and is 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/or 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 by 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

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 Ch. 18, Verizon Cable Ch. 36);
  • PWCS E-News subscription service; and
  • PWCS Information line: 703-791-2776 (when directed).

Note that unofficial information received in phone calls or via 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 as quickly as possible. 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.


A hold is initiated when there is a situation that requires staff and students to 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 school administration.

Secure the Building

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.

Shelter in Place

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.

Lockdown with “Defend Options”

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, there are other options that can lead to your survival. If exposed to an immediate threat inside your school or lockdown room, you may need to consider defend options that may include evacuating using a nearby exit. All staff and students remain in lockdown until released by the police or school administration.

Field Trips

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

Students Requiring Medication

Parents/guardians of students who require medication are asked to make sure that the school has an appropriate amount of medication on hand. The appropriate amount should be based on advice from the student’s physician.

Bus Transportation Under NTAS Alert

Should a crisis/emergency occur while students are in the process of being transported to or from school, school bus drivers will contact the Transportation Department for instructions. If necessary, parents/guardians will be informed of the parent/guardian-student alternate shelter location via the school messaging system. Reunification of students and parents will occur at the alternate shelter. Parents/guardians will be required to 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 tornado 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 in a safe, orderly, and timely manner.
  • 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 such time that 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 any 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 the evacuation of a school, 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 individuals authorized in ParentVUE or who have written permission from a parent or guardian.
  • Parents/guardians will be required to 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 at any time in our community or in neighboring communities. Children may be confused and/or frightened by the information they hear in conversations and in news reports and they will look to adults for guidance as to how to react. 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 the amount of exposure your child has 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 his or her 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.
  • Remember the importance of touch. A hug can reassure your child that he/she is 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 will feel prepared if an emergency occurs.
  • Monitor and supervise your child’s outdoor (play) activities.
  • Know with whom and where your child is always.
  • Prearrange a place where your children should go in the event 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.

Updated: February 28, 2023