In June of 2006, school districts in Polk and Norman Counties signed under a Homeland Security grant called Emergency Response and Crisis Management (ERCM). A Safety Coordinator for the two counties was hired in December of 2006 to work with the schools to develop and update their emergency crisis plans. These plans contain steps on what to do in case of an emergency situation ranging from severe weather to an intruder with a weapon. School staff is trained in each of these areas.
This spring, assessments were done on the infrastructure of each school. Recommendations from these assessments were to make school administrators aware of areas of improvement to make the school a more safe and secure place for our children to get an education. It has been found that the majority of the schools Polk and Norman Counties have a safe and secure environment.
More recently, the Minnesota Department of Health is asking the schools to include a section in their emergency crisis plan on the pandemic (avian flu). According to Minnesota State Statute 12, the Governor of Minnesota will have the authority to close the schools for an indeterminate period of time to prevent social interaction and spread of the flu. Schools will need to determine how to continue to teach the students and keep the building maintained during the closure. Some schools will be used for mass dispensing sites for vaccine, hospitals, shelters and even morgues. The Safety Coordinator is working the Counties' Public Health Departments to be educated and to eventually educate schools in this matter.
The Safety Coordinator is also working with law enforcement, local fire departments and ambulance services (EMS) to develop a "same page" attitude in response to an emergency at a school. There may be an incident where all of these public safety agencies may need to respond. Tabletop exercises will held in the future with these public safety agencies and school administrators to determine primary and secondary staging sites and do a scenario of a critical incident in the school. With this, school administrators and their safety/crisis teams are being encouraged to be certified in NIMS (National Incident Management System) which is the protocol of the incident command system developed by the Department of Homeland Security. All members of public safety agencies are required to be NIMS certified and schools need to be aware of what role they will take during a critical incident involving these agencies.
There have been 24 school shootings since the 1998 Columbine tragedy, not including the Virginia Tech incident. School shootings range from the small rural Amish community school to very large schools with nearly 2,000 students. And let's not forget the one closest to home; Red Lake. Some may say that schools have become "prisons" by locking students in the schools during school hours. But in our current society, school districts are taking serious steps to protect our most precious resource; our children.
If the general public, community leaders, school board members, parents, students or school staff have questions or comments, please feel free to contact Bernadette Motherway, Safety Coordinator for Polk and Norman Counties, at 218-280-3727 or firstname.lastname@example.org.