Friday, May 23, 2008


Elyria – The Lorain County Emergency Operations Center was opened Monday morning for a special training session.

The Students: Police Officers, Firefighters, School officials & Health Department officials.

The Teacher: Robert Watson of South Carolina

The Syllabus: Making ALL Schools throughout Lorain County SAFE

It has been almost 10 years since the county has done such an extensive assessment of all schools according to Robert Watson who was brought in this week to train people how to be “assessors”. The program was requested and sponsored by the Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will, Watson said he was asked Will to train a new group of assessors who would concentrate and focus on crisis response training as oppose to comprehensive safety issues. “What we want them to find out is how well prepared the schools are to respond to a crisis and their readiness. These people will look at the crisis response procedures they have and how they find them grouped – or encourage the school how to group them according to the threat.”

Watson said that in many schools the crisis response procedure is grouped in with all of the schools other safety procedures, he would like to see it pulled from there and have it stand on its own. “Right now it can be mixed in with routine safety plans like how to handle visitors, fire drills and things of that nature. This makes it very hard to teach from those emergency procedures to the faculty and other staff. It’s also tough for the emergency responders because they would like to see them all grouped together under one specific heading.”

When the assessors are sent out to the school buildings they were taught to do three things; Ask, Look & Find. (ALF) “They will sit down with the school administrators and they will ask questions, interview them about their procedures – they will find out from asking. Then they will look, that is you inspect – you see that what they said is actually there. If they say the doors are kept locked all the time when you interview them then you go look and find a door propped open – then you have a conflict there. Then find means go to the documents – see if the documents support what the people say during the interviews. So the approach is to go in and interview, inspect and to review documents and try to get a comprehensive look about the schools ability to respond to a crisis.”

Watson said that Lorain County has been very proactive in having this program. “The Prosecutor and Tom Kelley, Director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, are two of the lead figures in this program and they want to see the assessment done of the schools, which will help the schools. This is not just a program to gather information and stick it in a file somewhere, it’s only good if it feeds back to the schools and it helps them to improve themselves.”

During a kick off seminar held in February Prosecutor Dennis Will said that his office is proud to continue the program and to work with many other agencies in making the area schools safer for students and staff. “What we are trying to accomplish is to update the school response plans, to make them aware of new and more inventive ways to develop their plans so that they stay active, that they remain realistic with what they are dealing with and that they learn from other people who have had types of incidents that we are trying to prevent here.”

Kelley said a team of officials went out and accessed all of the schools in Lorain County in 1999. The assessment consisted of everything from looking over their emergency plans, interviewing teachers, students and parents. “We would literally feel circuit breaker panels to see if they were overloaded, touched panic bars, checked fire extinguishers – we checked everything to see if the school was safe, then we made our recommendations.” Kelley said the school assessments will happen again at the beginning of the next school year, however the checklist will have more of a focus on emergency planning. “This time we will focus on emergency plans, making sure that they are update – all of the contact names and numbers are current.”

Will said that with schools having so much on their plate, sometimes security issues get pushed to the back burner. “I think that the schools have so many things to deal with – with testing and meeting projective goals that they prioritize things and this isn’t the highest priority. It’s normal in any type of response plan or any type of planning that you have to continually update your training and that is why we are trying to do this on a yearly basis and to perform a reassessment of all the school facilities.”


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