ST. GEORGE – Recent real-life events in the St. George area, such as a bank robbery and a suicidal person with a possible weapon, highlight the need for constant emergency preparedness training.
Making sure more than 24,000 students are safe and ready to learn each day in the Washington County School District is no small task for a core group of district administrators and community leaders.
“We take safety and preparedness seriously around here,” said LuAnne Forrest, student services/emergency services director for the school district. “Our collaboration with law enforcement, fire and public health is so valuable to us. We can’t work in isolation.”
A coalition of district administrators and representatives from the Washington County Health Department and the St. George Police and Fire Departments joined forces in July by attending a federally-sponsored Emergency Management Institute together back east.
“We had our assistant superintendents, security manager and business manager come with us to this training,” said Forrest. “If you want something to work, you have to bring in all the players.”
The weeklong training, hosted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and paid for in part through a Readiness Emergency Grant, featured multi-hazard emergency planning for schools around the country.
“Our goal is to protect students, faculty, staff, visitors and district property,” said Stan DeMille, special systems/security supervisor for the Washington County School District. “It can be very stressful when you are talking about protecting people and even more stressful during a real event. Training together helps us become calm and organized during an emergency.”
A key benefit of that training included developing a working document of “action items” for the coalition members to implement back home, said Forrest.
“We created an action plan while we were there together,” she said. “We worked through some new emergency responses such as procedures for reunifying families in an emergency.”
Other action items include developing a new response to emergencies that occur during unstructured time at a school and a reverse evacuation procedure to be used when students are not in the classroom. Each of the 34 identified action items are tied to a team member who is responsible for making sure the item is implemented.
“We have a lot of work to do, but after seeing what other districts from other states are doing, we realized we are in great shape,” said DeMille. “This type of training helps us know what we need to do to better protect each other during an emergency.”
During both events, nearby schools immediately went into “shelter-in-place or lockdown” until the emergency passed.
Thanks to frequent emergency training drills and the district’s ongoing efforts to work together with first responders such as the police, a calm atmosphere prevailed within the schools, said Forrest.
July’s full-scale “active shooter” emergency exercise conducted at Pine View High School also tested the district’s communication efforts with not only each other, but first responders as well.
“This type of training helps us better understand how we coordinate with law enforcement, fire and emergency medical people,” said DeMille. “It is excellent training that shows all of us that we need to be more vigilant in doing our part.”
Emergency training efforts continue at the school district, said Forrest, who added, “This is a collaborative, significant community effort.”