Planning for a safe school year

Severe weather, earthquakes, and an active volcano are all cause for concern here in Pierce County. And when you include man-made threats that can trigger a lockdown, school leaders have a lot to think about as they are planning for a safe school year.

Bethel has always had plans in place for disasters of many kinds, but there has never been a comprehensive guide for principals and district leaders to utilize if the worst does happen.

Enter the district’s first ever High-Quality Emergency Operations Plan.

The new plan includes threat assessments, clear and concise directions for actions to take, forms and more — anything district leaders might need in the event of an emergency, including the district’s Hazard Mitigation Plan and a Continuity of Operations plan, which is required by OSPI.

In creating the document, the district worked with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, local first responders, and our SROs to incorporate their expertise into the plan, along with information from OSPI and the district’s existing policies and procedures.

This year the High-Quality Emergency Operations Plan is being rolled out to schools by our Risk Manager, Alex Huerta. “The plan will provide schools with a comprehensive view of continuity of operations and emergency procedures, should a catastrophic event occur,” he said.

Introducing all of the information to principals at once can be overwhelming, as there are a wide variety of hazards and threats covered in the document — everything from active shooter incidents to earthquakes. Because each school is different, the plan also includes information that allows each principal and their safety team to tailor it to meet the specific needs of their building.

“Principals can devise site specific hazard-and-threat specific protocols with their safety teams using the protocols,” said Huerta. They can then practice drills and exercises in partnership with local emergency and safety officials. This will help the school evaluate their current procedures and allow for modifications or updating as necessary.

Huerta said it’s important to keep the plan updated regularly to reflect changes in emergency response procedures, operational resources, and key information for schools.

“It’s also important to update the plan as first responders and local emergency agencies will need to have a copy of the most up-to-date protocols to assist the district in responding to an emergency,” he said.