When it comes to emergencies, be it a broken pipe or a school shooting, education and law-enforcement officials in Washington state believe most of their public schools are prepared—and the state has earned an award for making that happen.
Using federal money made available in the aftermath of the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs in 2001 launched an initiative to “map” all 2,250 schools in the state. The process involves bringing together floor plans, aerial photographs, response plans, relocation points, and evacuation routes.
In 2003, the legislature passed a law to expand the program to every public school in Washington. To date, 70 percent of the state’s schools have such safety maps in place, and the law-enforcement organization expects all will have them by December 2008.
In recognition, on Sep. 6, the state earned the 2007 Innovations Award in Homeland Security from the Falls Church, Va.-based Noblis, a nonprofit science and technology organization, and the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
“Mapping really is a comprehensive program of bringing all kinds of information that is needed by first responders, instant commanders, and school administrators together in one spot,” said Joe Hawe, the manager of tactical-operation support services for the sheriffs’ and police chiefs’ group. “The goal is, within the first 10 minutes to an hour of an incident, we can get it resolved or stabilized,” he said.
The organization contracted with the Seattle-based crisis-management company Prepared Response to create and maintain the database.
A Fargo, N.D., high school, meanwhile, had its emergency plans activated two weeks ago when a mercury thermometer broke in a class, prompting a one-hour lockdown of the school. No one was injured.
In North Dakota, a mercury spill is treated as a release of hazardous waste. States have varying regulations about how mercury can be used in schools. (“Mercury Experiments In Class Can Be Poison,” Oct. 22, 2003.)