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MAINE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY
Wiscasset Schools Go For an A+ in Emergency Planning
March 31, 2008
State law requires that all school departments create an all-hazards emergency plan for incident response. In Wiscasset, school administrators went beyond the requirements, and pushed further to make their schools as safe as possible.
“The timing was really right in Wiscasset,” said Wiscasset Superintendent of Schools Jay McIntire. “One of the things I noticed when I started was that it was time to do a revision of the school’s emergency plan,” he said. “I started doing it with little information but a lot of enthusiasm to keep our students safe,” he said. That enthusiasm led him to discover the Iincident Command System.
Incident Command System, or ICS, is a standardized on-scene system that unites multiple response agencies under a single structure. ICS enables agencies to use common terminology, operate under a single incident commander, and establish a specific span of control which limits the number of responsibilities delegated to a single person. In the past police and fire personnel might have responded to an incident operating with separate command and communication structures. Under ICS, they respond as one unified force.
“School administrators were so enthusiastic about it, they not only adopted their all-hazards plan, but also adopted the Incident Command System into their daily operation,” said Tim Pellerin, Lincoln County Emergency Management Director.
School superintendent Jay McIntire is so committed to emergency planning that he has ordered specialized incident command training for his entire staff. “We are doing a joint class on incident command,” said Pellerin. “They are doing a school workshop day and teaching the whole staff, top to bottom – teachers, bus drivers, janitors, everybody.”
Pellerin said that McIntire is aiming for total safety. “At any given time, any one of his people in the school system could be in charge if they discover an incident,” he said. “He wants everybody to be able to understand incident command to keep kids safe.”
With that in mind, McIntire has placed disaster management at the top of his priority list. “The safety of his students is paramount,” Pellerin said. “When an event occurs at a Wiscasset school, we’re all going to talk the same language and we’re all going to be ready.”
Emergency planners know that an operations plan is only strong if the participants can implement and follow it. As such, McIntire requested Pellerin and his team organize an incident drill.
The school department, with the help of Pellerin, applied for and received a Department of Homeland Security grant to conduct a full-scale exercise this fall. “We’re going to be conducting a full-scale drill that involves a multitude of functions within the system to test the plan that they have written,” Pellerin said.
Wiscasset administrators have gone well beyond the requirements of law. “Very few school districts have followed through with it like Wiscasset has,” said Pellerin.
“How they operate their system now during incidents works well for safety, organization and operations,” Pellerin said. “We’ve gone from many separate entities to an understanding of unified command,” he said.
The district’s operations plan has designated locations for unified command posts both on and off school property. In addition, the plan is expandable, so that if additional schools are added to their district it can be quickly integrated.
Pellerin is thrilled that the school has moved forward so rapidly. “I’m really impressed with how they have wrapped their arms around ICS and developed an all-hazards emergency operations plan,” he said. “Many schools are waiting until district consolidation efforts are completed. Wiscasset said ‘no, we’re not going to be caught.’”
“Our kids and our staff, everybody in the community is going to be safer when we complete this,” McIntire said. “It has taken about 18 months to get the plan to the point it is in now. Every time we have a surprise situation and think ‘well, this could have gone worse,’ I think about it, discuss it, and keep on tweaking,” he said.
“This is going to be very good for our students and staff when and if we have to use the plan,” McIntire said.
He hopes that day never comes. “We hope, looking back on it, that we have spent hundreds of hours on something that we never have to use,” McIntire said. “But because we have spent hundreds of hours on it, we are more prepared to use it if we have to.”
Contact:Lincoln County EMA
Last update: 07/20/10
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