Developing emergency operations plans: What you need to know
As schools across the state begin ramping up their high-quality emergency operations plans, the Iowa Department of Education is putting together a series of initiatives, materials and trainings, as well as participating in state and national task forces.
The extra emphasis on safety plans is, in part, due to new legislation passed this year requiring all districts and schools to have high-quality emergency operations plans in place by June 30, 2019.
In today’s environment, said Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise, preparing for both manmade and natural threats is an imperative.
“When I think about school safety, I think of my role as director of the Department of Education which is responsible for nearly a half-million kids,” he said. “But I also think of it as a father who has two school-aged children.”
While a 2015 survey conducted by the Department showed that 88 percent of participating districts and non-public schools had emergency operations plans in place, only 9 percent were considered “high-quality,” as defined by the federal Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance, which provided a grant to the state of Iowa.
The Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools defines high-quality emergency operations:
- Support from leadership;
- The use of assessments to customize plans to the building level;
- Consideration for all threats and hazards;
- Provisions for the whole school community, including all ages and all needs especially students or staff with disabilities;
- Considerations for all settings, times, and events that may occur on campus or where students are participating off campus; and
- Collaboration with all areas of school staff as well as the emergency responders in the community.
A high-quality comprehensive plan should include reference to the incident command structure, provide a clear understanding of operations, assign roles and responsibilities, provide a timeline for training and exercises, and outline a process for ongoing development and maintenance. The plan should also specifically address all assessed threats and hazards and include actions that protect students in a variety of situations such as lockdown, evacuation, reunification, and shelter-in-place.
The Legislature’s bill calls for schools and districts need to reach out to community partners to help craft the plan, including people representing county emergency managers, law enforcement, the fire department, medical personnel and even mental health experts.
The development of a high-quality plan takes time and cooperation. Planning can be a year-long process consisting of regular meetings, assessments, and the input of subject matter experts. Planning is a continuous process even after the plan is published. Plans should evolve as the school and planning team learn lessons, obtain new information and insights, and update priorities.
In addition to schools and districts developing high-quality plans, the governor has put together an ad hoc work group comprising of state agencies – including Homeland Security and the departments of education and health and human services – to determine how they can work to ensure safe schools.
“We are going to be looking at it holistically,” Wise said. “All of these agencies are coming together to support that goal of keeping students safe.”
Wise is also participating on the national front, including being a part of a group of state chief education officers who will talk about specific plans that have been developed by other states.
This fall, schools should expect to receive banners and flyers sporting the governor’s campaign of “See Something, Say Something,” which encourages students and staff alike to speak up when they see or hear something out of the ordinary.
Trainings have already begun, including the May 1 school behavioral threat assessment training. In addition, there will be a series of trainings offered at each of the state’s Area Education Agencies this fall, though dates and locations have not yet been determined.
The Department of Education website, Emergency Operations Planning, provides resources, training information, emergency-plan templates and webinars about school safety.
- Iowa Department of Education: https://www.educateiowa.gov/pk-12/school-facilities/safety-and-accessibility/emergency-operations-planning
- Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center: https://rems.ed.gov/GuideK12.aspx
- Iowa School Safety Alliance: https://www.iowaschoolsafety.org/
- Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management: https://www.homelandsecurity.iowa.gov/
- FEMA-Emergency Management Institute (EMI): https://training.fema.gov/emi.aspx