Three Strategies to School Emergency Response Preparedness

04/23/2015  |  By Tom Strasburger

As schools around the nation, and the people within their walls, continue to be the target of violence, school districts are increasing spending on school safety and security. For example, Baltimore County (MD) Public Schools plans to spend $9.8M over the next three years to make school buildings more secure. 

Baltimore County (MD) Public Schools plans to spend $9.8M over the next three years to make school buildings more secure, including outfitting each school with surveillance cameras and secure door systems.

Including outfitting each school with surveillance cameras and secure door systems and eight metro-Atlanta school districts spent $28M in 2012 on physical school security such as armed school resource officers, classroom panic buttons, cameras and metal detectors. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education is providing 25 states with a total of $13 million in School Emergency Management grants to expand their capacities to assist districts in developing and implementing high-quality school emergency operations plans.

While physical security tactics are important, they do not help staff and students understand how to act in an emergency, regardless of whether it’s a violent act, weather situation, bullying incident, chemical spill, bomb threat, or other crisis. A complete and effective school safety program should consist of plans that address emergency, crisis and non-crisis situations and should include three key strategies:

  • Physical security technology
  • Accessible and easy-to-follow plans
    of action
  • Consistent district-wide training,
    well-practiced drills and other compliance tasks

Planning School Safety Programs:
Best Practice Example

A comprehensive school safety program — like the one at Great Oaks Career Campuses — can be modeled by any career center or K-12 schoolto maximize their preparedness and increase the culture of safety to keep students safe and focused on learning. Great Oaks, in Cincinnati, Ohio, consists of four physical campuses and has satellite programs that serve an additional 36 Southwestern Ohio districts. Great Oaks provides career and technical education (CTE) programs and services, as well as English/language arts, mathematics and science to approximately 3,500 high school students at its campuses,and also deploys educators to its satellite districts to teach an additional 11,000 students.

Al Gille, Great Oaks’ Coordinator of Health, Safety and Security, was recruited seven years ago to overhaul Great Oaks’ approach to school safety. Gille followed three key steps to create a multifaceted school safety and emergency response plan using the above three strategies.

Physical Security Technology

Since hiring Gille, Great Oaks has installed many physical security technologies. In addition to adding more than 480 security cameras across the campuses, each building now has an electronic door locking system, a visitor management system, and an electronic key card entry system for staff. These security measures are becoming increasingly standard across school districts.

With access points better secured, Gille selected a mapping program to house detailed facility information. In addition to showing the location of each building’s cameras, AEDs, and exits, this system contains a map of all shut-off valves which is accompanied by video clips to explain how to turn each on and off in case of an emergency. The system also includes 360-degree photographs of all classrooms, hallways, and doors, and aerial photographs of all facilities so that emergency responders can quickly familiarize themselves with any site during an emergency.

In January 2015,Great Oaks completed construction on an Emergency Operations Center in the district’s central building. This center includes access to security cameras and radio communications in all buildings, and the ability to override all PA systems. This Emergency Operations Center was located strategically to provide ready access to the superintendent, communications team, and vice president of grounds and maintenance, in addition to Gille’s Safety and Security team, so key decision makers have quick access to individual building resources from one
central location.

Accessible and Easy-to-Follow
Plans of Action

Great Oaks worked with local authorities, as well as national security experts, to create emergency action plans. All staffs are trained to take action in the event of an active shooter situation using the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training technique. The campuses then work with local authorities to host on-site simulations to practice executing what they learned in the ALICE training.

Being prepared in the event that a crisis occurs is important, but many districts fail to plan what to do after a crisis. A two-minute crisis event can create years of follow-up actions. Great Oaks appointed a Continuity Group consisting of FBI officials, members of the local fire and police departments, Great Oaks IT and communications staff, school counselors and administrators to create a Reunification Plan that addresses what to do after a crisis event occurs. The detailed plan includes situation-specific phone trees, instructions on when staff and students should return to school, or when they should relocate to different campuses, and more. The goal of the Continuity Group was to think through all the potential components of any crisis, and then plan for those components in advance so campuses can reopen and students can return to learning as quickly as possible.

Consistent District-Wide Training, Well-Practiced Drills, and Other Compliance

Tasks Without automation, keeping track of training deadlines and completion progress and the many drills and compliance tasks districts are required to complete creates the opportunity for things to slip through the cracks. By switching to an automated and online system, Great Oaks has both sped up the pace of these processes and eliminated potential for human error.

The assignment, notification and tracking of staff training, compliance tasks — such as drills, inspections, building maintenance, and mandated reporting and staff accident management, now all occur online. As a result, Gille and staff supervisors are auto-emailed non-compliance reports so they know what tasks still need to be completed.

Further, these reports give Gille insight into recurring or potential safety issues based on frequency, location, time, or employee roles. This data enables Gille to identify opportunities to implement preventive measures such as new or additional training, changing processes or policies, or requesting maintenance to prevent reoccurrence of accidents —all to improve safety throughout its campuses.

A Sustainable Plan

What makes Great Oaks’ comprehensive safety plan a success is that it builds a culture of safety for the district so students and staff can feel safe at school while being prepared to act in case a crisis occurs.

Districts, no matter how large or small, can create this same culture of safety by focusing on the three key strategies included within the Great Oaks safety plan —security technologies, accessible plans of action that include reunification, and automated, consistent training, compliance and reporting.

Because of this program introduced by Al Gille along with other initiatives, Al Gille was named a finalist for Campus Safety 2015 Director of the Year.

Tom Strasburger is vice president of PublicSchoolWORKS. For more information,email [email protected] or call 877-77-WORKS
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