Because of a number of recent school shootings, the phrase “school emergency” might conjure up visions of physical violence by students.
But Boone County officials know that school emergencies can include a number of events. “It could be a tornado, a hurricane or even a flu,” said Capt. Beverly Braun of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department.
In the event of an emergency, responding officials want to be sure they are operating on the same page. To accomplish this, county officials are working with school districts to create a unified emergency preparedness plan.
“The reason for that is if there is some sort of significant event, agencies that might not normally respond to those schools would be responding,” said Scott Olson, Boone County Fire Protection District assistant chief. “It would make it simpler for the police officers, firefighters or paramedics on the street to have one common approach to any school in the county.”
For example, the Boone County Sheriff’s Department and the Hallsville Police Department normally responds to events at Hallsville schools, Olson said. But a large scale event could draw personnel from the Columbia Police Department and the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
The effort to create a unified response program will begin at Rock Bridge High School and the Hallsville public school’s campus, which includes the elementary, middle and high school..
Olson said that the Boone County Fire Protection District and the Boone County Sheriff’s Department had already been working with Hallsville public schools for about two years. The Columbia Police Department and Columbia Fire Department let the Columbia Public School District choose which school to work with first, and the district chose Rock Bridge.
Rock Bridge principal Andy Kohl said a group from Rock Bridge will be meeting with county officials to see how they can better increase communication in the event of an emergency. “In the building, we know what we’ll do,” he said. “But when you bring in responders, we need to make sure that our procedures are supportive of what they’re doing as well.”
The discussion of synchronizing school preparedness programs has been occurring for several years. “We started talking about this after Columbine,” Braun said.
Dean Martin, a division chief at the Columbia Fire Department, echoed this sentiment.
“The events you see across the country do get your attention, but these conversations have been taking place all along anyway,” Martin said.
Simulated drills will be the next step in creating a unified preparedness program. By starting with a drill at one school, Braun said, officials will be able to fine tune the program before taking it to another school.