RENO, Nev. — In light of everything happening around the topic of school safety — such as the Uvalde, Texas shooting in May and the Pasco, Washington school bus driver stabbing last fall— Salliejo Evers said society needs to be and do better.
A mother of three, the comprehensive school safety coordinator for Northeast Educational Services District 101, one of nine regional offices operated by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington, said she continues to do what she does because children expect the best from adults. During STN EXPO Reno on Monday, she discussed the importance of districts having emergency operations plans (EOP), and most of the time, one plan isn’t even enough.
In the push to make school buses visible, she said they can also become more vulnerable. That is why it’s important to share and/or create the plan in conjunction with transportation leaders. Have a plan and a backup plan, she added.
Salliejo Evers is a former disaster program manager for the Eastern Kentucky Chapter of the American Red Cross and most recently was the school security director for Spokane Public Schools in Washington state.
At the start of the general session, she encouraged attendees to think about the following scenarios and how they would address them in their district/operations.
What would you do if there was a language barrier? If there was an active assailant or an angry parent approaching the bus? What if a weapon gets brought on the bus, or a student got off at the wrong stop. What if a bus evacuation was required during the school day?
As Evers went through each scenario, members of the audience shared how they would react or recounted a similar incident happening at their district. Evers and attendees agreed on the need for creating an anonymous tip line for students to share concerns or report suspicions to district leaders.
Evers noted that a comprehensive school safety approach consists of a threat assessment coordinator, behavioral health advocate, and a comprehensive school safety specialist. She explained that comprehensive school safety can be formalized into an EOP.
When creating an EOP, she said there are three key components:
- The Basic Plan
- Functional Annex – The “how to’s” of emergency response
- Hazard Annex
“Then share the plan, prepare, educate and practice,” she said, adding that sharing with school bus drivers and transportation employees gives them the change to ask questions. She noted that school buses can be very functional, maybe even as a shelter in place vehicle, which is why the information needs to be shared with transportation.
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In addition to informing staff members of the EOP, parents should also be kept informed, though the full details can be withheld so that parents don’t show up on scene and try to retrieve their kids.
Evers went on to explain the four phases of emergency management:
Prevention and Mitigation – “We can’t prevent everything, she said, but we can mitigate it.” Evers noted that steps can be taken to lessen the harm, which is where threat assessment comes into play. She explained that threat assessment plus situational awareness is a powerful tool. Threat assessment is behavior awareness, she said, while risk assessment is hazard identification.
Preparedness – This is getting people ready, she said. Evers noted that districts should start with discussion-based exercises, such as seminars, workshops and discussions. Then the education should become situational with scenario-based tabletop exercises. Operational exercises would be the next step, with a focus on drills and full-scale exercises, she said.
Response – Evers noted that response consists of safety first and foremost. It includes stabilizing the incident, property preservations and environmental concerns.
Recovery – The recovery annex, Evers said, must include crisis intervention and continuity of operations information.
Evers added that to manage an emergency effectively, the emergency response team must be trained in the incident command system (ICS). She provided a link to a course that helps those understand on scene emergency management.
“I tell bus drivers all the time they are incident commanders,” Ever said.
Considering Social Media
Evers noted that in today’s day and age, everything ends up online. She noted it’s important to train staff on what is OK to say and not to say. She added that students should also be trained in what is acceptable to post online. For instance, one district leader shared a tragedy, during which the parents had yet to be notified before the information was shared by students via social media.
In closing, Evers provided the following safety tips:
- Increased situational awareness: Bus drivers are the first adults in the morning and the last school adults of the day to see students. They are heroes.
- Locked doors and integrated systems
- Always consider additional exits and objects at hand. Defending yourself and others is OK. For instance, she said you can hurt somebody with a cup of coffee.
- Be a trusted adult and prevent bullying. She noted that one school district asked students who their most trusted adult was in that school system. This resulted in teachers finding out they could make better connections with that students, and administrators could see what teachers are truly being advocates for the children.
- See something, say something, do something. In an emergency, the only wrong decision is to do nothing.
- Communication is critical. We must do our best.