Countywide Response to School Emergencies

The Big Five is a common emergency plan adopted by all San Mateo County school districts and law enforcement agencies. Created by San Mateo County's Coalition for Safe Schools and Communities, it provides five immediate action responses in any given emergency: Shelter in Place; Drop, Cover, and Hold On; Secure Campus; Lockdown/Barricade; and Evacuation.

The Big Five has become the cornerstone of emergency response for San Mateo County’s schools. Versions of The Big Five are available for administrators, school staff, and the community, as well as multiple resources for engaging school community members. 

Learn about the Big Five below and find resources for school administrators and teachers.

The Big Five Immediate Action Emergency Response Packets

The Big Five Community Packet (EnglishSpanishTraditional ChineseTagalog)

Staff Packet

Administrator Packet

Shelter in PlaceShelter in Place

Shelter in Place is implemented to isolate students and staff from the outdoor environment and prevent exposure to airborne contaminants or outside threats. It is appropriate for external chemical releases, fire in the community, hazardous material spills, unhealthy air quality outside, or dangerous wildlife on or near campus.

Drop, Cover, and Hold OnDrop, Cover, and Hold On

Drop, Cover, and Hold On is the immediate action taken in the event of an earthquake or explosion and protects students and staff from flying and falling debris. It is an appropriate action for earthquakes and explosions. Depending on the incident, it may be followed with Evacuation.

Secure CampusSecure Campus

Secure campus is implemented when a threat of violence or police action in the surrounding community requires precautionary measures to ensure school safety. This response is considered appropriate for a potential threat of violence in the surrounding community or law enforcement activity in the surrounding community.


Lockdown/Barricade is implemented when the imminent threat of violence or gunfire is identified on the campus or the school is directed to do so by law enforcement. During Lockdown/Barricade, students are to remain in designated classrooms or lockdown locations at all times. This response is considered appropriate for gunfire or a threat of extreme violence outside the classroom.


Evacuation is implemented when conditions make it unsafe to remain in the building. This action provides for the orderly movement of students and staff along prescribed routes from inside school buildings to a designated outside area of safety. This response is considered appropriate for bomb threats, chemical accidents, explosions or threats of explosions, fires, or earthquakes.

School Administrator Resources

  • Air Quality Resources: Learn how you can track air quality and prepare your family and school for days when air quality is poor.
  • Emergency Communication Guide and Templates (Word Document): Use this interactive document to plan and execute your communication strategy before, during, and after a crisis. The document includes editable templates for each Big Five emergency response situation.
  • Facilities Report: Read recommendations for building safe school facilities to create and sustain a safe and supportive school campus.
  • Fire Watch: Learn how to set up a fire watch when a school’s fire alarm, sprinkler, or other fire suppression system is inoperable while the risk of fire danger is high.
  • Hazard Responses: Learn how to respond to hazards such as chemical and gas leaks, off-site fires, and power outages.
  • Incident Command Cards: Learn about the various roles needed to respond to an emergency, including the School Incident Commander, School Safety Officer, and School Public Information Officer.
  • When to Close a School: Use this document to help determine whether your school and district meet the requirements to stay open during an emergency, weather event, or other unusual circumstance.Think-On-Your-Feet Peet

Think-on-Your-Feet Peet

The Big Five is made engaging and easy to understand through the children's book, Think-on-Your-Feet Peet. This book acts as a great entry-point to the Big Five in classroom settings without using active shooter drills, which may be traumatic for those involved.

The County Office of Education recommends engaging elementary school students (TK-5th Grade) in the Big Five using Think-on-Your-Feet Peet. To help students learn the Big Five emergency protocols, the County Office of Education has developed a series of lesson plans to engage students in the Big Five.

Classroom Resources

Think-on-Your-Feet Peet Digital Book:
English, Spanish

Think-on-Your-Feet Peet Activity Book:

TK-3rd Grade:
Lesson PlanPowerPoint, PDF of Slides

4th-5th Grade:
Lesson PlanPowerPoint, PDF of Slides

Middle School:
Lesson PlanPowerPoint, PDF of Slides

High School:
Lesson PlanPowerPoint, PDF of Slides

Resources for Families

The Big Five Overview:

School Safety for Families Webpage

Related Websites

Safe School Planning
California Department of Education

The Standardized Emergency Management System
California Office of Emergency Services

School Planning and Preparedness
California Office of Emergency Services

Nancy Magee

San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools


Phone: (650) 802-5554