School leaders now have a new tool to help them prepare for disasters and other emergencies: The SAFE (School Actions for Emergencies) Center, a joint project of eSchool News and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), made its online debut earlier this month.
For the first time, educators now have free, unlimited access to a comprehensive web site intended to help them prepare for physical and IT security threats and emergencies. The site is fully functional today, but it will be expanded and enhanced as time goes by.
Though four out of five educators say their schools consider emergency preparedness important, according to a recent eSchool News survey, one in four rate their schools’ level of preparedness as “below average”-and 27 percent say they have little faith in their organization’s ability to carry out its plan.
The findings of this unscientific survey suggest a need for more resources to help school leaders prepare for emergencies, like the hurricanes that devastated Gulf Coast schools more than a year ago and the shootings that have rocked even more schools this academic year. To help meet this critical need, eSchool News and ISTE have teamed up to create the SAFE Center, which aims to serve as a clearinghouse for essential school-safety resources.
“Recent tragedies, such as Hurricane Katrina and the several school shootings, underscore the need for a central repository of shared information and resources. Educators need help in their efforts to protect today’s children and young adults in all emergency-related scenarios,” says Gregg Downey, president and publisher of eSchool News.
“Now, besides just reporting on a disaster affecting education, we’ll also be able to provide the field with many of the resources educators search for as they prepare for emergencies, learn to react as effectively as possible in time of need, and then recover in the aftermath.”
Here are some of the resources this new center provides now or soon will provide:
*Emergency-specific collections of the best available research documents and guidelines on preparing for and coping with a disaster or emergency;
*A link library of corporate security and preparedness providers;
*A clearinghouse of exemplary state and local disaster plans that educators can use as models when developing their own plans; and
*Presentations of “best of breed” examples of planning documents covering key types of disasters and emergencies.
“ISTE is very pleased to be partnering with eSchool News on this timely project,” said Don Knezek, ISTE’S chief executive. “We believe this resource will help ensure student safety and uninterrupted learning in the event of a disaster that may impact schools. This resource will support many of our chief technology officers and technology coordinators in their responsibilities related to disaster preparedness.”
Additional survey results underscore the need in the educational community for such a resource center. Only 10.5 percent of respondents believe their organization is “very capable” of executing its emergency-preparedness plan. In addition, many respondents believe a disaster is likely to befall their organization in the next five years and beyond. Fifty-nine percent of respondents believe a disaster is “likely” in the next 5-10 years, while 50 percent believe it is “very likely” one will strike in their schools.
Though much of the information contained in the new SAFE Center can be found elsewhere online, eSchool News and ISTE have assembled it into one easy-to-use repository, aggregating the very best plans and strategies for addressing a wide variety of possible emergencies, including bomb threats, earthquakes, shootings, gang activity, floods, hurricanes, pandemics, sexual predators, and more.
Each type of emergency has its own easy-to-find heading; clicking on these headings brings you a collection of emergency-specific links to guidebooks, news, plans, and other resources from government entities, associations, organizations, schools, and universities.
Peruse the heading “Pandemics,” for example, and you’ll find links to the Department of Health and Human Services’ “School District Pandemic Influenza Planning Checklist”; the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s “Pandemic Planning for Schools”; and more. Under “Terrorist Threat/Attacks,” you’ll find school terrorism preparedness guides from National School Safety and Security Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, eSchool News and ISTE have collected and organized several sample emergency and disaster plans from specific schools across the nation. This resource will be expanded and “best of breed” selections will be highlighted as time goes by, said Downey.
While certain identifiers – such as phone numbers, key personnel, and specific meeting places – have been removed to protect the schools’ confidentiality and the effectiveness of their plans, these sample plans can be useful models for schools that have yet to define their own emergency procedures-or they can help school leaders refine their existing emergency plans.
The new online SAFE Center is a work in progress; eSchool News and ISTE will continue to add more resources, and educators are encouraged to submit their own model disaster plans, success stories, and other information of use to their colleagues.
That way, “everyone can take from and contribute to what we hope will become the foremost clearinghouse for this absolutely critical information,” said eSchool News Online Editor Roger Riddell.
International Society for Technology in Education