Ohio offers free school safety plan training course

Ohio offers free school safety plan training course

(Ohio) A U.S. Department of Homeland Security-funded training course is helping Ohio schools update safety plans to meet newer state requirements aimed at protecting property and saving lives in the event of a natural disaster or a man-made one.

Developed and offered by the University of Findlay’s All Hazards Training Center, the two-day course brings together key decision makers from schools, law enforcement, emergency response agencies, local government and the community to develop a plan that prepares them to effectively communicate, respond to and recover from a school-based incident.

“The plan is designed to deal with a very localized, smaller type of emergency all the way up to the most catastrophic things we can imagine like school shooters and those kind of things,” said Rick Amweg, executive director of the state’s Center for P-20 Safety and Security – charged with helping evaluate and bring school safety plans into compliance.  

“We see the impact that going to the training has on the quality of the plan the school is able to produce,” he said, “but the other added advantage, too, is that it gets the school administration and the local first responders, particularly the police chief and the fire chief, together to talk about how this would actually play out in a real life scenario.”

Legislation requiring school safety plans was first adopted in Ohio following the now infamous Columbine High School shooting in Colorado that occurred 16 years ago this week and left 12 students, a teacher and the two teen gunmen dead.

But two more school shootings in 2012 – one at Ohio’s Chardon High School in February and another at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in December – spurred, respectively, an Ohio task force on school safety and updated legislation calling for more comprehensive development and review of the required safety plans.

Under Ohio law, every school in the state – public or private – including preschools or child care programs licensed by the Department of Education must develop, adopt and file a comprehensive emergency management plan “for each building under the administrator’s control,” according to ODE information. Information in the plans is then shared electronically with emergency responders at the time of any incident.

The emergency management plans must consist of four parts:

  • A protocol, which is a single document, for addressing and responding to serious threats to the safety of property, students, employees, or administrators;
  • A floor plan that is unique to each floor of the building;
  • A site plan that includes all building property and surrounding property;
  • An emergency contact information sheet.

Paid for with a $704,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security and the Ohio Department of Public Safety, Findlay University’s 16-hour training program is available to every school free of charge, Amweg said.

Trainers – many former police officers as well as FBI and Secret Service agents – come to the school site where they meet with administrators, emergency responders and safety directors to compare existing plans and protocols to national standards that the state follows to identify strengths and areas of improvement.

Scenario-based activities allow participants to practice necessary skills and ensure collaborative strategies are in place for effective crises prevention, response and recovery. The program is based on an "all hazards" approach, focusing not only on school violence issues, but also on day-to-day safety and security threats, including accidents and natural disasters.

According to Amweg, the state is in the process of reviewing the emergency management plans of its 4,400 schools and education agencies that are required to have them. Schools with plans found out of compliance or in need of strengthening are referred to Findlay’s All Hazards Training Center Program for assistance.

“We're finding that some (Ohio schools) don't really have much of a plan at all, and some have excellent plans, but the majority fall in between,” Rick Zwayer, chief of operations for Ohio Homeland Security’s Strategic Analysis and Information Center, told the Review Times earlier this month. The SAIC is also assisting the Ohio Department of Education with reviewing each school’s plan for compliance.

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