SAFETY IN THE RURAL NEVADA SCHOOL DISTRICT
- Posted By admin
- On May 21, 2019
Nevada has some of the best school safety laws in the Country, but funding of planning and training programs, then finding the time to train staff in emergency response, is always problematic for school districts. The expectation of school staff in all fifty states is that if a manmade or natural emergency incident occurs at a school, the staff will know how to respond and care for those in their charge. This is the standard that will be used to judge the effectiveness of the school response post-incident, and failure to comply with this expectation, in addition to all state and federal laws, could result in civil liability. A lawsuit for failure to comply to safety statutes could bankrupt a school district. This fiscal liability must be kept in mind when looking at a district’s emergency management program, but the more important aspect of planning and training is the fact we have a moral and ethical responsibility to keep our students and staff safe at our schools.
With the 2015 passage of NV. SB205, which has since been codified in NRS Chapter 388, school districts were given responsibilities related to writing standardized Emergency Operations Plans and training in school emergency response. The FEMA Guide For High Quality School Emergency Operations Plans was already the federal standard for writing these plans, so compliance with this guide was necessary at the state level and subsequently became the “model plan” for NV. school districts. The FEMA Guide was created by the U.S. Department of Education in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security under the direction of Presidential Policy Directive 8 (PPD8), which set our National Preparedness Goals in 2011. PPD8 also requires facilities, including schools, to do Hazard and Vulnerability Assessments to identify areas of vulnerability and address them with target hardening recommendations.
The FEMA Guide went into effect on July 1. 2013, and any district not in compliance with planning and training requirements of the Guide had to get there. In addition to state laws requiring emergency response training in schools, the federal government also required school districts to be trained in the principles of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS). These laws are all unfunded mandates, so time and money are the biggest obstacles to school safety planning and training compliance.
All these laws are good, but it an unreal expectation to have a school Principal, a district Superintendent, or a school Board Member understand any of it. We want our educators, decision makers, and policy makers spending their time educating our children, and not trying to be emergency managers as an ancillary duty. Passage of school safety laws without a system of implementation and funding options to achieve compliance is akin to setting schools and districts up for failure. The safety of our schools is paramount to effective learning, and we also have to worry about the civil liability. Failure to plan and train in areas related to school emergency response is one of the most common elements seen in civil lawsuits after injuries occur during a violent incident at a school. This includes failure to identify and target areas of vulnerability pre-incident as mandated in PPD8.
In 2014 the Nevada Risk Management Pool, (POOL PACT), recognized the need to address both new and existing laws related to school safety, and to standardize the emergency management planning and training programs for the fifteen rural Nevada School Districts. The Washoe and Clark County School Districts have their own designated Emergency Managers running these programs for their district, but emergency management was typically an ancillary duty in the rural school districts. My company, School Safety Operations Inc., started working with POOL PACT to design an emergency management program for the rural districts in 2014.
The program included writing Standardized All-Hazards Emergency Operations Plans for each district. The plans were submitted to the District Development Committees for review, approval, and subsequent adaption to each individual school. This ensured each school was doing the same thing, and all Emergency Operations Plans were in compliance with the state model plan and the FEMA Guide. Yearly plan review and updates are done for each district as part of the project. This process ensures trained persons with emergency management backgrounds are writing the plans, and takes the onus of compliance off of the Principal or Superintendent.
Another part of the project is performing Hazard and Vulnerability Assessments on each school and district facility. These assessments look at target hardening the schools in a realistic manner. We can’t turn the schools into prisons, but we can always make it safer. We know if a bad guy wants to get into a school to do harm, they are eventually going to get in. Our goal is to make an unauthorized entry difficult in order to slow them down and allow law enforcement the precious time they need to get to the school and take care of business. The assessments also look at culture and climate related issues, as well as policies and procedures related to school safety. The HVA reports contain short term and long term recommendations for target hardening, and have been used for justification of grant or existing budget funding. An important aspect of this part of the program is yearly re-assessments in order to track the progress of the projects. Should the worst case scenario occur and something bad does happen at a school, we want to be able to show the forward momentum of the project in order to mitigate liability issues.
The most important aspect of this project is staff emergency response training. Not only is it a requirement of state and federal law, it is also the only way to expect school staff members to know what to do during an emergency. No matter how good the plans are, emergency response has to be a second nature response that can be carried out without looking at plans, check lists, or flip charts. Training geared specifically to school staff is the only way to achieve this second nature response, and this cannot be any type of fear based training. Our training classes are geared toward the times available to the school districts, and are presented as often as requested as part of the POOL PACT rural school emergency management project. POOL PACT has never turned down a district’s request for training, and encourages use of this on-going service.
The last important aspect of this project is sustainability. POOL PACT has committed to keeping this project moving forward, as this is a necessary component to ensure safety in our schools. People retire, get promoted, or move to different areas. The only way to make sure the current staff are properly trained is a sustained program with training as often as possible. This type of training is considered a diminishing skill, so without repetition it can be forgotten in times of stress.
The POOL PACT program is visionary, as it ensures standardization and compliance with emergency management in the fifteen districts. The program is also provided at no direct cost to the school districts since it is provided by POOL PACT. Without this type of support, the effectiveness of the program would not be possible. Our team travels throughout the U.S. and Canada presenting to school districts, and we refer to this program as the model of effectiveness wherever we go. We’re proud to be part of this program and the fact we’re able to support school safety in our home state of Nevada.
Each year our International School Safety Institute holds its annual conference in San Diego in the fall. We give out an award we call the Gatekeeper Award to one individual and one school district from the U.S. or Canada at the conference. We review individual, school, and school district contributions to school safety when our team judges potential award recipients. To demonstrate the effectiveness of the
POOL PACT program, the three 2019 Gatekeeper awards are all going to Nevada this year. We’re proud to announce the district award is going to the Lyon County School District in recognition of some of their target hardening programs at their schools. We can always get better, but they’ve put a lot of our recommendations in place to make their schools safer. The individual award is going to Dan Wold, Superintendent of the Eureka County School District for his contributions to safety in his district. This year our team is also awarding a Gatekeeper Safety Support Award to the Nevada POOL PACT for their contributions to school safety in Nevada. They also assist the districts with some help for registration costs to the conference, which further assists in school safety training. Attendees to the conference bring back some pretty good information from the conference that can be used for in-house training, and that helps with project sustainability.
Information about the Gatekeeper award recipients and the conference in general can be found at www.InternationalSchoolSafety.org. This year’s conference is September 30th through October 2nd, and we have our best group of presenters ever. We believe so strongly in the rural Nevada school safety project and school safety efforts in general going on in Nevada, that we’ve scheduled a two-hour Nevada track on the pre-conference day. We have attendees from other states signed up for this track, because they want to hear about what’s going on in Nevada so they can bring ideas home with them. We share the good, learn from the bad, and always keep the efforts in school safety moving forward…
Thanks for your time and I’m always available to answer questions or help where I can. Take care.
President, School Safety Operations Inc.
About the Author:
Jeff Kaye retired as a Sergeant from the Reno, NV. Police Department in 2006 after 24 years of service. Upon retirement, he took a position as the Director of Public Safety for the Desert Sands Unified School District in La Quinta, CA. and held that position until retirement in 2016. Jeff started his business School Safety Operations Inc. in 2011, and co-founded the International School Safety Institute in 2014. He currently resides with his wife and family in the San Diego, CA. area