School Climate & Safety

Districts Eye Existing Emergency Plans

By Linda Jacobson — September 13, 2005 3 min read
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As school districts nationwide were putting out the welcome mat last week for Hurricane Katrina evacuees, some districts along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico were taking a closer look at their own plans in the event of a hurricane.

Hurricane season runs from June through November, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center has already forecast a more-active- than-normal season for such storms this year. As many as 12 more tropical storms could materialize this season, with at least four of those turning into major hurricanes.

In the 600-student Hyde County district along North Carolina’s Outer Banks—an area “devastated by Hurricane Isabel” in 2003, noted Associate Superintendent James Bunch—officials are forming tighter relationships with emergency-management personnel at the county level.

“We are becoming aware of so many more potential problems because of this professional relationship,” Mr. Bunch said last week. “We used to just rely on local weather forecasts.”

He added that he was already monitoring the path of a tropical depression that was forming in the Atlantic Ocean.

Even though Hyde County is not below sea level, Mr. Bunch said that he was considering moving his district’s school bus fleet to higher ground in case of future storms. Not only would the buses be spared, he said, but they would also be available to evacuate residents from the area.

Availability of transportation has emerged as a major issue in critiques of the incomplete evacuation of New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina.

‘It Could Have Been Us’

Hurricane Teaching Resources

Education World, Hurricane Watch
Activities and lesson plans for art, language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and writing. a_lesson/lesson/lesson076.shtml

FEMA for Kids

Miami Museum of Science index.html

MindOh! Foundation
Character education activities related to Hurricane Katrina. hurricanekatrina.htm

National Geographic Kids
Article and resources on characteristics of hurricanes. ngkids/0308/hurricane/

National Geographic Storm Center eye /hurricanes/hurrintro.html

National Hurricane Center
National Weather Service tropical-prediction center includes satellite imagery, U.S. weather radar, and resources for learning about hurricanes, emergency preparedness, and hurricane history.

Scholastic News
Special report on Hurricane Katrina for grades 1-8, including news articles and links for helping with the relief effort.

Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University
Tracks storms and includes current forecasts for the Gulf of Mexico, Florida, and the East Coast.

U.S. Geological Survey
Information on natural resources, ecology, and water issues, including groundwater runoff, stream flow, erosion, and water quality.
One section examines the worst floods in the United States and what caused them. 2003/circ1245

USA Today
Graphic and information illustrating a typical Northern Hemisphere hurricane. tg/whurwhat/whurwhat.htm

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo & Sean Cavanagh

In Florida’s Walton County school district, where Superintendent Carlene H. Anderson sent a message to parents reading, “It could have been us,” officials advised staff members to copy all their important data onto CDs and store them off site in a sturdy plastic container. They should also include names and numbers of fellow employees and vendors that might be needed to “resume mission-critical functions,” according to a tip sheet for the 6,500-student district, located in the middle of the Florida Panhandle.

“You should ask yourself, ‘What do I do when we cannot use our facility?’ ’’ the disaster-recovery plan advises.

Sue F. Burgess, the superintendent of the 5,000-student Dare County, N.C., school district, northeast of Hyde County, considered similar matters when preparing for Hurricane Isabel. In advance of the storm, officials “ran the payroll” a day early and moved the payroll operation to a county farther west of the coast, Ms. Burgess said.

Minutes of school board meetings were also locked up in a vault in a local bank because the board’s offices are in a building that takes on water even in a normal rain.

Measures for safeguarding records will likely get renewed attention from many school officials elsewhere in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. (“Officials Scramble to Salvage Storm-Damaged School Data,” Sept. 14, 2004)

Students and staff members are often already away from school buildings when storms hit.

In the 270,000-student Broward County district in South Florida, for example, schools were closed Aug. 25-26 when Katrina passed through before reaching the Gulf Coast because many of the facilities were needed as emergency shelters.

Even if lives aren’t in danger, districts in the pathway of severe storms still have to think about protecting and repairing their buildings as soon as possible.

“Our biggest issue is our roofs,” said Tommy Kranz, the chief operating officer for the 30,000-student Okaloosa County district, along the Florida Panhandle.

So the coastal district has roofing contractors standing by, ready to go to work as soon as crews are allowed back at the school sites. The system also stockpiles as least $300,000 worth of materials for repairs.

“Our goal is that we want to open school the next day,” said Mr. Kranz, who grew up near New Orleans and has displaced family members staying in his home.

But even for someone who has grown up around hurricanes, there are always lessons to learn, said Mr. Kranz. He said that workers in the district finally figured out, for instance, how to secure some batting cages that got tossed by the wind each time a storm came through.

“Every storm acts differently,” he said. “People have to take these evacuation orders seriously.”

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A version of this article appeared in the September 14, 2005 edition of Education Week as Districts Eye Existing Emergency Plans


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