Fayette schools prep for hazards of all varieties

Principals and administrators from across the Fayette County School System were joined by law enforcement and emergency management officials from around Fayette County on Jan. 11 to discuss the school system’s emergency crisis plan with representatives from the Ga. Emergency Management Agency (GEMA). The heavily attended meeting resulted in several updates and additions to the school system’s longstanding emergency plan.

Fayette schools years ago were essentially the jumping off point for emergency crisis plans across Georgia’s school systems, having instituted local procedures in the wake of Columbine. The Jan. 11 meeting was designed to look at the current plan and determine if additions to the plan were needed. And the meeting at the Lafayette Education Center (LEC) did result in a number of changes and upgrades to the existing plan.

Though the recent massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School is doubtless fresh on the minds of educators and parents across America, GEMA School Safety Coordinator Anna Lumpkin, who moderated the Jan. 11 session, stressed the need to view all emergency plans in terms of an All-Hazards perspective. The All-Hazards approach is one that takes all emergencies into account, whether natural or manmade disasters or incidents such as school shootings.

One outcome of the meeting was the decision to hold a tabletop emergency crisis exercise at Minter Elementary School, likely in the coming weeks. A second tabletop exercise will follow at one of the county’s middle or high schools.

Another outcome of the Jan. 11 meeting dealt with the National Incident Management System (NIMS), the systematic, proactive approach to guide departments and agencies at all levels of government, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector to work seamlessly to prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of incidents, regardless of cause, size, location, or complexity, in order to reduce the loss of life and property and harm to the environment.

The NIMS course will be taken by all principals and other school system employees for which the course is applicable, said Deputy Superintendent Sam Sweat. And Lumpkin noted the need to incorporate the relevant portions of NIMS into the school system’s emergency crisis plan.

Pertaining to individual schools, a process will be put in place so that classroom doors will remain locked and that all visitors, including school system employees such as maintenance staff, will be required to check in at the front office.

Also up for review are the current evacuation plans for each school, including the evacuation locations to which students are to be transported. Fayette County Fire and Emergency Services staff will work with school system staff and other appropriate stakeholders to ensure that current evacuation plans are appropriate for individual schools.

The front office staff and their back-ups from schools across the school system will soon receive group training at LEC on various issues relating to school crisis scenarios. And, also relating to individual schools, plans will be implemented to have school resource officers at the county’s middle and high schools be available to respond to nearby elementary schools should a crisis arise.

Sweat in addressing another addition to the school system’s overall plan said a crisis plan would be implemented for the central office location in Fayetteville. Though in place for all schools, such a plan had not been devised for central office.

Lumpkin during the meeting said GEMA also has a number of materials available for school system staff that relate to both NIMS training and associated issues specific to schools and school safety.

Both Lumpkin and Sweat emphasized that the school system’s emergency crisis plan is one that is essentially a partnership between the school system and all public safety and emergency response agencies.