Safety plans updated: School districts prepare for emergencies

November, 2015 Posted in Community, News, School

By Mary Owen

In light of recent school shooting events and the potential for an earthquake, local school districts are shoring up their emergency safety procedures.

“Safety has always been our top priority, yet recent events have caused us to re-examine our emergency procedures with a fresh perspective,” said Todd Miller, superintendent for the Santiam Canyon School District. “The recent events and media coverage have increased awareness of the issues and sparked meaningful conversations.”

Additional conversations internally have been the catalyst for greater agency collaboration and improving outcomes and safety with a heightened sense of urgency and support, Miller said.

“You really get the sense that everyone rallies around our students and their safety,” he added.

Two years ago, the district adopted the “I Love You Guys Foundation” Standard Response Protocol as its emergency system for response, Miller said.

“We have been collaborating with our local law enforcement and emergency responders to coordinate efforts and ideas,” he said. “Along with fine-tuning our response procedures, we are also working with staff, counselors and mental health professionals to improve proactive supports to students who are not connecting or being successful at school or at home. Prevention is our number one response.”

North Santiam School District Superintendent Andy Gardner said schools can never be too prepared.

“The district has two lockdown drills each year, the first being in the fall prior to the end of October,” Gardner said. “The second is done with less preparation in the spring to see how quickly we respond. Law enforcement is present for the drills.”

NSSD also conducts a yearly earthquake drill, and continues to work toward obtaining seismic grants and improving the district’s readiness to keep students safe in case of a large quake, he said.

“The district also holds fire drills monthly throughout the school year, and we are lucky to live in the boundaries of three great fire districts,” Gardner said in his recent blog to parents. “Those drills remain important, particularly in the very dry years we have had these past two years. Vigilance has stopped some roadside fires from becoming threats to homes and lives.”

NSSD is pursuing seismic grants through the state, as not all school buildings were seismically upgraded via funds from the recent school bond, Gardner said.

“A primary focus will be Sublimity Middle School, which is a 1942 brick building,” he said.

Santiam Canyon School District recently hired a seismic engineering firm to conduct extensive studies of the Santiam High School gymnasium and auditorium buildings. The audit, which should be concluded in December, will determine current structural design and retrofitting needs, Miller said.

“We are actively seeking seismic grants to fund these projects, as they could cost well more than our district budget will allow,” he said. “Our main elementary and middle/high school classroom buildings were not seen as high risk for collapse during an earthquake.”

Gardner said the NSSD is entering a comprehensive review of all safety plans and will be working with police and safety agencies in the district to create a plan for each type of emergency, from earthquakes to active shooters.

“We must remain vigilant and continue to prepare,” Gardner said. “The Stayton Police Department and the NSSD have agreed to begin meeting to discuss all the possible events and create plans for these possibilities.”

Gardner recognizes the Stayton Police Department for voluntarily shifting an officer to work with all Stayton schools, including Regis High and St. Mary Catholic schools.

“The district will provide office space at Stayton High School,” he said. “We believe this will create positive relationships between police officers and our students, which can help substantially from a preventative perspective.”

Miller said Santiam has been working with local businesses for response support. In collaboration with the Linn County Neighborhood Watch groups in the canyon area, the district held an Incident Response Community Forum on Oct. 29 in the Santiam Elementary School multi-purpose room in Mill City.

The event was designed to discuss on efforts to prevent and respond to incidents, inform parents of procedures, and field questions.

“Many people have safety on their minds,” Miller said.

The event was coordinated with local emergency responders, Linn County Sheriff’s Office, local Neighborhood Watch groups and the Santiam Canyon Parent-Teacher Organization.

“Our hearts go out to those affect by the recent tragedy in Roseburg and others around the country,” Miller said. “I hope the lessons learned help to prevent other tragic events from happening.

“We encourage any interested stakeholders to contact the schools with any questions or ideas to help in an emergency,” he added.

“And parents, please talk to your children about the importance of immediately telling an adult if they have concerns about a threat they are aware of, as they could be a hero and save lives.”

For more information, call the North Santiam School District at 503-769-6924 or the Santiam Canyon School District at 503-897-2321.

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