By Carley Dangona
WEST SPRINGFIELD – West Side schools, both public and private, underwent emergency management training courtesy of a federally funded program.
On Jan. 31, 50 administrators from schools that serve students from pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade met in the Town Hall auditorium for a Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) training session
Larry Borland and Gina Kahn from the REMS Technical Assistance Center led the program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Representatives from the Fire, Police and Emergency Management departments also attended the session.
“If there’s ever an emergency, it’s not likely to affect just one school,” Superintendent of West Springfield Public Schools Dr. Russell Johnston said. He added that it’s important to development and implement emergency plans that not only consider needs from a facility perspective, but that also consider the behavioral and emotional needs of students.
The REMS website (http://rems.ed.gov
) states, “On June 18, 2013, the White House released guides for developing high-quality emergency operations plans for schools and institutions of higher education (IHEs). These guides align and build upon years of emergency planning work by the Federal government and are the first joint product of the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Education and Health and Human Services on this critical topic.”
It continues, “The guides are customized to each type of community, incorporate lessons learned from recent incidents, and respond to the needs and concerns voiced by stakeholders following the recent shootings in Newtown and Oak Creek and the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma. Schools and IHEs can use them to create new plans as well as to revise and update existing plans and align their emergency planning practices with those at the national, state and local levels.”
Johnston explained the goal of the training was to assess each school’s current status and capacity to implement the key components of emergency plans as taught in the REMS training. He said the trainers were “a wealth of knowledge.” For the next step, administrators will collaborate with the crisis representatives in their schools to customize the plan to the specific needs of the building.
In his school district, Johnston said that simulated lockdowns take place in addition to the traditional fire drills and safety practices. Small teams of faculty, administrators and employees work together on “table top activities” where they walk through emergency scenarios in order to prepare the school in the event that the incident occurs.
“Safety does cross my mind every day; it should though – not a crippling fear but a state of alertness. You can’t have learning without a safe environment,” Johnston commented.
Mayor Edward Sullivan did not take part in the REMS program, but said that he glanced into the room and noted it was well attended. For him, it’s important to “extend the reach of the program” to incorporate plans for extracurricular activities, school bus service and field trips.
The training is available to all school districts and an application is available on the REMS website that also features tools such as copies of the school guides, webinar training and resources lists with links.