June 12, 2009 By Elaine Rundle
In Michigan, the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) system took advantage of a U.S. Department of Education grant to update its emergency management plans and training. In 2008, it received a Readiness Emergency Management for Schools grant to get help from an emergency management firm with revising its disaster training and policies.
Henry Caudle Sr., administrator of the district's Comprehensive School Improvement Plan and district crisis response team coordinator, said the school system worked with Prepared Response Inc. to address four emergency response goals during an 18-month process. First, the district wanted to update its emergency management quick-reference flip charts and handbook to be National Incident Management System and U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) compliant.
Second, Caudle said the district wanted to acquire more safety equipment, like automated external defibrillator (AED) units. Before the grant, not all of the district's 35 buildings had an AED unit on their premises -- now each school and administrative building has at least one unit. The district also distributed "emergency to go bags" to all of the classrooms that contain a quick-reference flip chart and first aid pack. "Each classroom has a bag to take out with them in case of fire drills, practices or the real thing -- at least the teachers would have a starter kit for managing situations with students and adults better," Caudle said.
The third goal was for the district to enhance its relationship with local first response agencies. AAPS sponsored tabletop drills and other activities with the local fire and police agencies to get to know them better and to help them learn about the school properties. Caudle said Prepared Response was instrumental in helping the district organize the activities and wrap up the briefings at the end of each one.
The final goal was for the school system to ensure that it had established plans for taking care of its special-needs population, like the hearing and learning impaired, during an emergency.
The district also used the funding to train teachers and administrative staff in CPR, first aid and AED use. Caudle said some administrators also took FEMA courses and will continue their certification throughout the year.
Through the use of the approximately $244,600 grant Ann Arbor Public Schools made waves toward accomplishing its goals. "I think one big benefit is that our entire staff -- teachers, custodial staff, all the staff in the district -- probably feel a little better about the business of being proactive in terms of emergency management," Caudle said. "I know we have many more people who are trained so we have to be in a better place now than we were before implementation of the grant."
Prepared Response completed security and vulnerability assessments at AAPS' 35 buildings to identify district and site-specific vulnerabilities. Caudle said there were numerous vulnerabilities identified at each location, but some issues were districtwide. For example, Prepared Response told the school system that a specific number should identify each entry door to a building. Now staff can be told to exit students through a specific door or first responders can be told which door an incident is closest to so that they can enter the building through the most appropriate location.
The site assessments also identified grounds maintenance as an issue to address. "Overgrown weeds can hide people, so we started looking closely at the landscape around buildings and trying to clean them up so that the site would be better and safer," Caudle said.
As a result of the assessments, school officials can turn in work orders to address the topics identified, he said.
"The business of trying to provide a safe and secure school environment for all is an ongoing process, and if you think about it, it's kind of scary because you can always find things that you could do better," Caudle said. "Administrators and school staff should continuously think about these issues and address them as well as they can, but not to become complacent and think things won't happen or can't happen here or there."