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From a news release

A 7.1 earthquake just hit Klamath Falls, damaging roads and buildings. You are principal of one of the 23 schools in the Klamath County School District, and hundreds of students just evacuated your school building. Now what?

How would you know if everyone was safely out of the building? And what would you do if people were injured or missing, and emergency workers couldn’t reach your location anytime soon.

Ask any KCSD administrator. They spent a full day last week training in how to use the district’s emergency operation plan and create an emergency response team to ensure everything possible is being done to save lives, prevent injuries, and protect property. The teams are patterned after the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Incident Command System.

School crisis

“Families trust schools to keep their children safe during the school day,” said Glen Szymoniak, superintendent of the Klamath County School District. “The reality is that schools may be touched either directly or indirectly by a crisis at any time.

“The district is committed to the safety of our students, staff, and community. This emergency response plan is intended to provide schools a guide for prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.

Szymoniak, while an administrator in Alaska, wrote an emergency operation plan based the FEMA model specifically for school districts. That plan is now used by districts throughout Alaska and the Northwest.

Helping Szymoniak with the training and exercises were members of the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office, the Certified Community Response Team, Klamath County Fire District No. 1, and Klamath County School Safety and Risk Management Director Steve Johnson.

Building administrators were trained so they could use the system in their schools, training staff on team roles and responsibilities. After a morning of hands-on workshops including building security and intruder lockdowns, fire suppression and the roles of an incident command team, they practiced emergency drills. The day ended with the 7.1 earthquake drill.

Unaccounted for

During the drill, evacuation was done within a few minutes and within five minutes it was determined six “students” were unaccounted for. Using emergency response equipment – vests, radios, hard hats, etc. – the incident commander assigned two, two-person search and rescue teams to return to the building and systematically search it. (Six staff members as part of the drill remained in the building).

Meanwhile, staff practiced other roles necessary – building manager, security, communication, medical, staging – that are needed to keep students and staff safe in an emergency. As search and rescue crews reported in by radio – clearing rooms and areas they had searched – communications kept track. Within 14 minutes, all six had been found uninjured and escorted to safety.

Henley High School Principal Jack Lee, who was in the role of incident commander, said the incident command system can be used during any type of emergency or threat.

“I think it’s important to physically go through these trainings,” said Jack Lee, principal of Henley High School, who served as incident commander during the earthquake drill. “This is the first time we’ve ever done anything like this where we would send staff members into a collapsed building to search for missing students.”

Practice, practice, practice

Klamath County School District employees go through a series of trainings, Szymoniak said, including taking an online FEMA class on the Incident Command System as it applies to schools. Schools also conduct monthly drills to practice responses to a variety of emergencies, including natural disasters, active shooters, intruders, and bomb threats.

In addition to emergency response training, the district has implemented several practices to ensure safe and welcome schools. They include:

■ Locked entrances to school buildings during the school day and school events with a buzz-in system for access.

■ Evacuation routes available in all classrooms.

■ Threat assessment protocols, district harassment procedures, counseling response teams, and academic and behavioral intervention teams.

■ Continued assessment of dress code and backpack policies.

“In addressing the issue of school safety, we must first remember that schools are reflective of the communities they serve,” Szymoniak said. “As such, we can work together to ensure maximum school safety and preventative emergency procedures.”

Klamath County School District administrators train in incident command response system.