After the Sandy Hook school tragedy I began to think about how the various communication procedures in place at NYC public schools would work in an emergency situation. You’d think that after 9/11 all of this would be worked out, but 13 years ago when these plans were devised, cellphones were not common in schools, and smartphones didn't even exist. And yet, we are still operating as if cellphones and tablets are privileges, and not tools for aiding and helping in these types of situations. System wide emergency alerts are standard, but if all cellphones are shut off, or stored off campus, they are useless.
If my daughters were in an emergency situation I would want to know they had their cellphone for communication. If children were moved to a different location it would obviously be much faster for them to be able to contact their parent themselves, rather than rely on an administrator or teacher to go through a class list – if they even have access to that list where they are.
The first thing I did was put all family contact info on my daughters’ phones. For children with allergies and other medical issues, having that information accessible on a smartphone could make everything easier, and safer. We saw during Superstorm Sandy what happened when elderly people had to be evacuated, but their physical charts couldn't move with them. In this day and age that seems both unacceptable and very easy to fix.
As a parent I admit, I want to know that I can reach my child easily and not have to jump through hoops to do it – or wait for my phone to ring. I also want to know that they will have all the info they need, or that a first responder would need to help them, right on their person if possible. And in a worse case scenario like a school shooting, I want to know they can send a text message to officials or to me, to alert them of danger or their hiding location.
I know cellphones can be a distraction, or worse a tool for cheating, but we need to have a real discussion about how these computers in the palm of our kids' hands should also be a part of any meaningful and effective emergency plan.