How I came to Simon Youth Foundation from Homeland Security

The following guest post was written by Kimb Stewart, Program Coordinator at SYF.

The most common question I was asked my first several months I worked for Simon Youth Foundation was simply, “You came from where?”

You might not think it’s a polite question, but it’s something you get used to when you used to work at the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

Initially, that doesn’t seem to be a very likely transition. What on earth could emergency management and planning have to do with working for a foundation that supports alternative education programs? But most people I talk to seem to understand when I explain that I developed and administered Indiana’s Secured School Safety Grant.

School safety has long been a focus of my professional life, dating back to when I worked for the Indiana Department of Education. Back then I worked for two programs – alternative education and charter schools – that generally built out space in non-traditional classroom areas.

Many of those previous experiences came together when I started working at SYF, and I still have concerns about school. Occasionally I am asked about the most important things that schools should do to maintain the safety of their staff and students. This blog post was going to be a Top 5 school safety tips, but I think I can pare that down even further to just one vitally important message: Have a Plan!

When talking about school safety, it’s easy to concentrate on just one type of incident. However if you have a plan that covers what needs to happen when an emergency occurs and who is responsible for each part of the plan, you will be ready for the majority of incidents you will face.

Many states have laws and resources for school safety planning, but there are federal resources as well. One I have found to be particularly helpful is Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools at http://rems.ed.gov/. They have interactive resources that will walk you through the process of developing an Emergency Operations Plan. They have other helpful resources to help you create a plan as well.

One of the keys to having a plan is the ability to put that plan into action. A plan on a shelf is hardly better than no plan at all. That is why the plan must be shared with key stakeholders. For example, in Simon Youth Academies, where many schools are in a mall, mall staff should be among those who are aware of the plan. Teachers and students will also have to know and be able to implement certain parts of the plan. Likewise, each mall has a plan and the school should talk with mall staff and be familiar with the plan.

Most states have requirements for incident drills. In Indiana, for example, schools must hold a fire drill once a month and a tornado drill once a semester. Generally, there is nothing that prohibits the exercise of a plan more often than the state requirements. If you are located in a non-traditional facility, it could be a good idea to establish a drill schedule for your staff and students that gets them acclimated to the plan.

School safety has evolved quite a bit in the past 15 years or so. Plans to keep students and staff safe shouldn’t be limited to fire and weather drills, but should look at the whole range of incidents that could affect safety during the school day. If you would like more information about school safety planning, please contact SYF or your local or state school safety professionals.

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