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Reality-Based School Emergency Management Funding

  • Posted By admin
  • On June 25, 2019
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A common theme we hear when working with schools and school districts is there is no money available for staff training in emergency response. We often see these same schools and districts spending a lot of money on products that promise to keep the schools safe or assist law enforcement with response to an Active Assailant incident. We call these “fear based” products, as references to school killings are often used to show the need for them. These products are typically of no use when it comes to proactive protection against an incident of violence, assisting emergency responders, or teaching staff the response actions they need in order to save lives during the manic minutes spent waiting for help to arrive at a school. Why are they no good???

Buying products like video systems, digital facility mapping systems and panic alarms, before a school has a secure perimeter and staff training is not an effective way to spend the little funding schools have available to them. It’s like putting a pool in your backyard before putting the roof on your house. It’s all good, until rain starts falling.

CASE STUDY:

A district spent $32K for digital and video mapping of a single school. The sales person told the district their system could be used by law enforcement during response to an Active Assailant incident. After the system was installed and the money was spent, the district found out some troubling things:

  • The system wasn’t compatible with the law enforcement servers, so emergency responders don’t have access to it.
  • The information in the system wasn’t real-time, so it was of no practical use to emergency responders.
  • Updates to the system for changes to the school were very expensive to complete.

Sadly, when the district informed law enforcement about the system law enforcement informed them the information from the system would be of no use in tactical response to an Active Assailant incident.

This district spent $32K on a system that is of no value to emergency responders and still operates without a secure single point of entry and no training of staff for school emergency response.

There is no “magic bullet” solution to address all areas of school safety. No matter how good the product or how hard the target is, if the staff at a school are not trained in school emergency response and if the emergency planning programs do not address the five FEMA “Mission Areas” of emergency management, the school is not prepared.

Here are some recommendations a school or school district should consider when making decisions for emergency planning and school safety: If a product is being pitched to you as one that will assist law enforcement response, check with your local law enforcement to see if they would use it. They might already have response plans to your school in place you can add to Your plans. Law enforcement and fire services are the experts who will be responding to your school. Their advice is free, and they are happy to give it, so you should take advantage of it and forge more collaboration across systems.

  • Implement a Hazard and Vulnerability Assessment of the facilities performed by a subject matter expert in order to prioritize target hardening projects, emergency management planning and training programs.
  • Proactive safe school culture and climate programs should be done before spending money on safety related products or training. This will help the school or school district prioritize projects, establish time lines, and ensure money is spent efficiently. These assessments are often pre-requisites for grant funding, and are recommended by FEMA, so it is a good idea to get them done anyway.
  • Never let anyone perform a facility assessment who is selling a product, or who makes financial gain from any product they might be recommended to you. An assessment cannot be considered credible and unbiased if the assessor is selling you a product they will profit from at the end of the assessment.
  • Always offer involvement in the assessment process to local law enforcement and fire agencies. They will probably accept your offer and it never hurts to have an extra set of eyes look at the facilities. Emergency responders look at how their response can be made more effective during their assessment, while the school assessors are looking at methods of securing the school and safely accepting the emergency response. Teaming up is smart and it works.
  • Always check references prior to purchasing any product or bringing in any planning or training programs. There are a lot of ineffective or fear-based training programs out there. If it has worked in another district, you’re probably safe to move forward. But if it hasn’t, that might be a red flag. Training programs for school staff should not induce feelings of fear or anxiety if they are going to be successful.

These are some simple, inexpensive, and effective methods schools and districts can practice to maximize the use of the biggest enemies to school safety, which are time and money. I offer this information based on my experience as a tactical law enforcement supervisor, a school safety professional, and a school emergency management consultant. I also have experienced falling prey to a good sales person when I was working for my school district. I spent $60K out of a REMS grant in 2010 for a digital mapping system, and was promised it would do a lot of things it never did. I still have the App on my cell phone, but the system was so complicated and ineffective, we were never able to go live with it or download any information into it. I’ve been where you are and learned how to better protect financial resources. It happens to the best of us, but it’s never a good day when you have to tell your boss you just wrote a big check and all you have to show for it is an App on your I-phone…

Stay safe, and stay smart Gatekeepers…

Jeff Kaye

President, School Safety Operations Inc.