Preparedness & Recovery

Oklahoma School District Tests Severe Weather Response Plan

Scenarios included a tornado striking schools during dismissal time, leaving damage and injuring students, and heavy rain that prohibited transportation to and from schools.

by Jessica Phillips Staff, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City / June 9, 2017
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(TNS) - The Edmond school district recently tested its severe weather readiness and staff members' understanding of what their roles would be in an emergency.

“I think it brought up some interesting questions and some places where we can refine our procedures,” Public Information Officer Susan Parks-Schlepp said.

The example scenario during last week's training involved severe weather developing throughout the day, a tornado striking schools during dismissal time, leaving damage and injuring students, and heavy rain that prohibited transportation to and from schools.

As portions of the scenario unfolded, participants were asked to discuss questions such as what should you be doing, how are you preparing and what happens tomorrow?

Leaders from the district's 28 schools worked in groups to assess the situation and each person's responsibility.

Discussions included communication between schools and the main office, and better procedures to account for students after a disaster occurs.

“We had a lot of conversations about, ‘How do we make sure every child is accounted for?'” Parks-Schlepp said.

Participants shared ideas of how they could accomplish this, such as by storing the school roster on a USB drive in case there is no power.

The district now is gathering notes from the training and plans to have additional communication with schools about what was learned and how policies could be altered.

“We also want the sites to communicate with us about what ideas they have to improve our procedures,” Parks-Schlepp said.

Staff members from various departments participated in the training. Maintenance, child nutrition and technology employees and superintendent Bret Towne were present, among others.

“In the event of a natural disaster, such as a strong tornado, it would take everyone in the district working together,” Parks-Schlepp said.

The Edmond Police Department and Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security assisted with the training. Jennifer Newell, program manager of the Oklahoma School Security Institute at Homeland Security, served as facilitator.

“Any time we can work with schools we are excited and honored,” Newell said.

Newell said she leads such training to help schools develop emergency procedures or to test existing policies and identify potential problem areas.

“It's making sure that the faculty, staff and students are going to the school in the safest environment possible,” she said.

“She was excellent in helping us stay on task and think of things that have actually come up similar to this in the state of Oklahoma and what communities learned from it," Parks-Schlepp said.

“I think the participants gained a lot of good information from one another that they can take back to their school sites."

The district is adding campus storm shelters with proceeds from bond issues approved by voters in 2015 and this year.

Storm shelters can now house more than half of the district's students. Schools built after 1990 had shelters installed during construction.

All shelters are expected to be finished by the 2020 school year and will have the capacity to hold the district's 24,400 students and 2,800 staff members, Parks-Schlepp said.

The district plans to build rooms that each school needs and reinforce those rooms to serve as storm shelters.

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