To the Editor:
In his remarks to the nation on Jan. 16, President Barack Obama offered a wide range of ideas to make schools safer. One component of his safe-schools plan is to ensure that all schools have a comprehensive emergency-management plan, and he directed his administration to develop a set of model emergency-management protocols.
These model plans will presumably supplement guidance published in 2006 by the U.S. Department of Education’s Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center and follow the guidance of the federal government’s National Incident Management System.
While this previous guidance provides a reasonably broad framework for such protocols, our recent review of emergency-management plans found them lacking the detail necessary to make them effective.
Districts generally assume responsibility for developing an emergency-management plan. However, every school has unique security considerations, and so district-level protocols are generally not sufficiently customized to be comprehensive.
For example, response time is a critical factor for emergency planning. A school with a response time of 45 minutes will have a greater need to maintain internal resources than a school with a five-minute response time. The layout of the school facility as well as numerous other factors can also have an impact on the requirements of an emergency plan. Existing school-level plans need to recognize these differences.
The federal government can provide models, but such models will not make schools safer unless local officials tailor them to specific circumstances in each school. In addition, establishing voluntary standards and ratings for school emergency-management protocols would provide school officials, parents, and other stakeholders with information about the quality of their schools’ plans.
Donald J. Cymrot
Vice President of Education
Stephen E. Rickman
Director of Justice Programs
Previously, Mr. Rickman served as the director of the District of Columbia Office of Emergency Preparedness (1990-1995) and the director of readiness for the White House Office of Homeland Security (2002).
A version of this article appeared in the March 06, 2013 edition of Education Week as Customization Is Key To School-Safety Plans