How Prepared Is Your Child's School For Emergencies?

Thursday, August 22nd 2013, 5:08 pm
By: News On 6

With the start of the school year comes some level of anxiety for most parents, wondering how safe their children are when they're in school.

Recent events like the Moore tornado and the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School have no doubt heightened that anxiety for parents.

We looked into the plans put in place to keep kids safe in the event of an emergency and found many schools are not as prepared as they should be.

When Tulsa police respond to a school emergency, they have a digital tool to help.

"Figure out how we want to enter, what entrances we want to block off," said Capt Steve Odom.

From their vehicles, officers can pull up phone numbers and floor plans for most of Tulsa's public schools.

"If somebody is in that and we know for sure somebody is in there, then we know we have a couple of routes in which to come in," Odom said.

Odom said, in the case of a major emergency, like an intruder on campus or a direct hit from a tornado, this information could be the difference between lives lost and lives saved.

"This is just another tool when it comes to trying to protect the kids, and give some assurance to parents that we have as many tools that we can have available to us on a daily basis," Odom said.

5/23/2013 Related Story: Is Your Child's School Prepared For Disaster?

Keeping students safe is the primary reason for a 10-year-old state law, requiring all schools in Oklahoma to update their emergency preparedness plans annually and keep them on file with their local office of emergency management.

The problem is, most schools aren't following this law.

We emailed every emergency manager in the state, asking how many schools have updated preparedness plans on file in their offices.

They didn't all respond, but the ones that did revealed fewer than half of their schools are complying with the law--just 373 out of 783 schools. And almost no private schools had plans on file.

Oklahoma City's emergency manager, Lt. Frank Barnes, said the law hasn't been followed, because many schools don't know about it and there's no penalty for noncompliance.

His jurisdiction includes 198 school sites, but only 55 of them have plans on file in his office, and that's up from just six schools in January.

"And so you've got Moore Public Schools, but Briarwood was involved in the May 20 tornado and it's in the City of Oklahoma City," said Barnes.

Emergency managers here have located and contacted all of their schools, including private schools, requesting copies of their preparedness plans and working with some of them to update their plans, which are then scanned into a computer system for first responders.

"You know we have a society that is changing. The hazards evolve and change. We have new and different hazards, and so you just have to stay up with them, and, if possible, try to get ahead of them in your planning process," Barnes said.

Both emergency and first responders agree, schools should take the law seriously, if for no other reason than history.

"Columbine: nobody thought that that would have happened where it did, but it did, and it can help everybody if they prepare and get in that mindset--'What am I going to do if something happens?'" Odom said.

In the right situation those plans could save lives.

The law requiring school emergency preparedness plans to be on file was updated this year. Schools now have a deadline to turn them in: November 1 of each year.