Wythe County Schools ahead of the game in emergency response Print

On Dec. 8, 2011, local emergency responders and school representatives came together at Wytheville Community College to attend a crisis management class given by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for school based incidents. During the class, the instructor was surprised and impressed by the response systems Wythe County already had in place.

Many “students” in the class found themselves at the unfamiliar end of the pencil. The course included a pre-test evaluation, six instructional modules and a post-test evaluation.

Students attending the class included several Wythe County principals, local firefighters, sheriff’s office sergeants and representatives, school board personnel and County personnel.

After the preliminary introductions, Dr. Amy L. Klinger, School Safety Consultant and course instructor, was thrilled to realize the variety of representatives that turned out. According to Klinger, having multiple county officials who understand the procedures that should be taken in a school related crises is the best situation.

“You guys have the ideal class,” remarked Klinger.

The eight-hour course was designed to educate rural law enforcement personnel as well as school administrators and staff on the elements that would allow for an effective response to school based emergencies.

The course topics included preparation to respond to different kinds of emergencies, response to situations such as bomb threats, shooters and chemical emergencies, and recovery efforts and methods to be taken at different grade levels.

One of the most important topics, according to Klinger, was what lockdown policies a school has in place. A common mistake is to have only one level of lockdown, which can result in total panic and uncertainty can set in among faculty and students.

Klinger was happy to learn that Wythe County is one of her first school systems she’s encounter that had a multi-level lockdown system already in place. This means that different types of concerns and incidents are announced and responded to in different ways depending on the severity.

Klinger also noted that a major problem in response to lockdowns is that there is no law requiring lockdown drills as there is with fire drills. Because of this, faculty and students are often unsure what to do and how to secure their classrooms.

Wythe County, however, is one of the few systems which is ahead of the game. In addition to being require to conduct fire drills at least once a week during the first month of school and at least once each month for the remainder of the school term, all County schools are required to conduct at least one simulated lockdown and crisis emergency evacuation activity early in each the school year.

Wesley Poole, Wythe County Public Schools Director of Facilities and Operations, said the knowledge of how to respond to emergency situations is as important as anything else taught to the students of Wythe County. In addition, it is a primary responsibility of the schools and county to make sure this knowledge is absorbed by each just as other subjects.

“Every time you do a drill, you are educating your students,” said Poole.

The class is the second in a series of classes that will be offered to Wythe County emergency response personnel. Many of these individual have already completed the Rail Car Incident Response course from FEMA.

Three other courses are already in the planning stages for the county according to Ikey Davidson, Director of Emergency Management for Wythe County. The courses will include Resource Inventory Management for Rural Communities, Dealing with the Media: A Short Course for Rural Responders, and Risk and Vulnerability Assessment for Rural Communities.

A new class just released from FEMA is also hoped to come to Wythe County, “Response for Rural First Responders.” Davidson hopes to plan the remainder of the courses about two months apart, filling up much of 2012.

All of the course are free of charge for hosting and attending and are six to eight hours long. For more information regarding the courses, contact Davidson by calling (276) 223-6033.