Sonoma County Schools Using FEMA Grant for Resiliency Plan

In the aftermath of the October 2017 fires, Sonoma County schools decided they needed to develop mitigation plans and protocols to deal with various natural hazards and the trauma they can cause to students and school employees.

by Jim McKay / July 12, 2019
On this Oct. 13, 2017, file photo, Carol Sproul, 75, right, and her daughter Jenny Freeman, 56, pick up donated items at an evacuation center at Sonoma Valley High School in Sonoma, Calif. AP/Janie Har

Sonoma County Schools Using FEMA Grant for Resiliency Plan

In the aftermath of the October 2017 fires, Sonoma County schools decided they needed to develop mitigation plans and protocols to deal with various natural hazards and the trauma they can cause to students and school employees.

 

Sonoma County, Calif., schools have seen their share of disasters and the havoc they can cause and will use a FEMA grant of $249,706 to develop mitigation plans instead of going off of “intuitive senses” during future responses.

Sonoma County schools include 40 districts and about 71,000 students. There will be subsets of plans to deal with the various hazards the different counties face, including floods, fires, earthquakes, tsunamis and severe storm damage, such as from wind.

The Sonoma County Office of Education applied for the grant last year following the October 2017 wildfires. The fires destroyed 5,300 homes and wreaked havoc with the school districts, as well as the students and faculty. Some school districts were closed for three weeks and two schools didn’t reopen for months until toxic debris was cleared from the neighborhoods.

Further, the county Office of Education did a survey this spring and found that 2,900 students and 400 school employees were still showing signs of stress, anxiety, depression, decreased academic performance or behavior problems. And there has been an increase in suicidal threats or[KA1]  attempts.

Each of the 40 districts signed a commitment to apply for the grant, which has a 36-month term. The resulting plan will be in effect for five years at no cost to the district.

Since most of the local cities and counties didn’t include schools in their emergency mitigation and response plans, the districts basically responded in[KA2]  instinct during recent fires and floods. “Last season with the flood we had to evacuate schools in the middle of the day, and we had to develop a contingency plan to get those students home because the roads would be isolated by a certain time,” Sonoma County schools Superintendent Steve Herrington said.

“There was no plan, no protocol established, we just did it by intuitive sense, but this plan would address those issues — what to do and when and probably address flood stages on the river,” he said

The grant will fund the hiring of a staff specialist to develop the plan for all the districts. Because of the variety of hazards the districts face, each district would be a subset within the plan and have an assessment conducted as part of the plan. The plans will then go to the local school boards for approval.

“We’re geographically challenged in some ways,” Herrington said. “We have a tsunami area in the northern part of our county, and we have fire as the main threat. We’re one of few counties that have all five [potential hazards] covered.”

Herrington testified this spring in front of the House Subcommittee on Education and Labor and was asked about trauma to students following disasters, which isn’t addressed in most plans but has a huge impact on students.

He emphasized that the county schools’ mitigation plans will include mitigation for trauma. “Schools need to be open,” he said. “We’re the first area of stability in a community. When you get your schools reopened, you start to stabilize your community, you start to put things back to normal, but to do that you also have to deal with the impact of trauma.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 [KA1]Would “and” be better?

 [KA2]How about “based on”?

 

Platforms & Programs