Janesville33.5°

Grant will help schools plan for emergencies

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
September 27, 2008
— If a tanker truck carrying toxic chemicals spills its load on Interstate 90/39, are local officials ready to keep school kids safe, handle evacuations and deal with panicked parents?

Yes, but Janesville schools could do more to make themselves safer, school officials believe. A $250,000 federal grant will help them narrow the security gap.


The district recently began planning and training for emergencies as part of a Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools, or REMS grant.


The grant looks at hazards, including chemical spills, natural disasters, terrorist attacks and pandemics.


A panel of officials from public and private schools, police, fire, county, Mercy Hospital and others have formed a school safety council to oversee the work during the 18 months of grant funding and beyond.


The council met for the first time Friday at school district headquarters.


The district has had emergency plans for years, but they have shortcomings, according to the district’s grant application. Coordination with local emergency agencies is one of the weak points, officials said.


The school district’s application for the grant states that the district, the city and the county are “seriously unprepared” to manage emergencies.


Some of that assessment is based on a consultant’s study of the school district last January.


Another key failing of the system is lack of a plan to reunify children with parents after an evacuation, said Karen Schulte, who oversees the district’s security efforts.


The grant application also lists these deficiencies:


-- No consideration of students with disabilities and other special needs.


-- No plan for pandemic flu or other infectious disease.


-- Building emergency response teams are not in place or not updated.


-- Lack of supplies and equipment, including emergency “go kits” and backup generators at most schools.


-- Public is not fully informed about emergency procedures.


-- Budget cuts have limited resources for emergency management.


Schulte said some of the local private schools are involved in the new planning process, something that hadn’t happened before.


TO LEARN MORE

The public is invited to hear Kenneth Trump speak about school security at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 7, at the Educational Services Center, 527 S. Franklin St., Janesville.


Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, has been hired to evaluate the Janesville School District’s school security systems.



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