As Hurricane Dorian recently lashed the East Coast with high winds, heavy rains and extensive flooding, school administrators across the country have been reviewing their disaster emergency plans.
In the Charleston County School District—located in South Carolina, along Dorian’s path—Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait determines school closures and emergency plans with the district’s operations staff, the head of security and emergency management, the head of the communication strategy and the director of transportation. District leaders also rely heavily on input from the county’s emergency management department, according to The Post and Courier.
In nearby North Carolina, leaders at Craven County Schools worked with local emergency services to ready the district’s schools as shelter sites. With memories of housing an overflow of dislocated families during Hurricane Florence still fresh in mind, Superintendent Meghan Doyle has also been proactive in making sure to have enough staff to help everyone who might need to stay at schools, she told News Channel 12.
Besides hurricanes, district leaders are continuously preparing for other extreme weather events and potential natural disasters, such as tornadoes and earthquakes.
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In Missouri, school district leaders in Joplin and Eldon don’t need reminders about being prepared for an emergency. As a devastating tornado tore through those communities this past May, local residents found refuge at school tornado shelters during and after that event. Administrators continue to improve student safety by working with emergency management personnel and practicing evacuation procedures, according to KRCG CBS 13.
A recent push in Seattle Public Schools involves making sure that all school emergency shelters have sufficient stocks of food and water in the event of an earthquake. Leaders at individual schools are responsible for organizing their own supplies and training staff, and awareness is being raised among parents and the community in regard to preparation needs, KUOW reports.
To safeguard education communities from the effects of events such as tornadoes, hurricanes and wildfires, a district administrator may need to tap an employee or new hire who’s passionate about emergency management, Shawn Streeter, a safe environment specialist for Poudre School District in northern Colorado, told DA in a recent story about preparing K-12 schools for emergencies.
Prevention and recovery plans should include regular emergency drills, safety education and emergency kits.
Having foresight certainly helps for preparation, but real-time circumstances may warrant a different response, said Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen of Humble ISD in Texas, which was heavily affected by flooding caused by 2017’s Hurricane Harvey. Flexibility during natural disasters is key.
“All aspects of school safety, including weather, are based on what you learn has worked and what hasn’t worked,” Fagen told DA. “You have your plans in place and hope that you never need them, but in the event something does happen, at least you’re not starting from scratch.”