For many years, the Lake Oswego School District has had emergency plans and procedures in place for dealing with threats and natural disasters. But for the first time ever, the LOSD now has a draft of its own comprehensive Emergency Operations Plan — an effort that's been three years in the making.
The new plan, which could be adopted by the School Board as soon as this August, includes specific procedures for high-priority hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, severe storms, fire, terrorism and bullying, as well as school-specific "annexes" that outline detailed responses to particular incidents.
District officials have undergone online and hands-on training for instituting the plan, which requires the creation of an Incident Command System (ICS) at each site that uses pre-assigned roles and a team approach for handling incidents. The plan assumes that some emergencies strike without warning and that the district's 10 schools must have the resources to be self-sustaining for up to four days.
"We did not have a plan of this level of completeness that covered Incident Command Systems and hazard-specific procedures," said Joe Morelock, assistant superintendent of curriculum and educational programs.
Because every campus is different, schools will forge individualized plans in areas that include communications, evacuations and reunification of families, Morelock said. He said clear reunification procedures will make it "safer and easier for the district to ensure students are reunited with their family in the event of an emergency that requires us to evacuate students to another location."
"For instance, if an emergency at a school required us to transport students to another location, we need an orderly process to make sure every student goes home with the proper adult," he said. "That includes sign-out procedures, traffic loops, communications and record keeping."
Morelock said staff and administrators will understand how to respond because each person will have assigned tasks. With an ICS, all players involved must be familiar with their role before an incident happens, and each job includes specific training and qualifications.
Some people, mostly administrators, will serve as leaders and direct others. Some will oversee internal and external communication; some will safeguard crucial tax documents and student records; and teachers, naturally, will shepherd their own students.
Still other staff members will watch over people who need physical assistance, such as the 35 students in the district who have access and functional needs or any of the 7,000 LOSD students and about 700 employees whose mobility may be impaired by an injury.
"Staff and faculty are expected to take charge and manage the incident until it is resolved," the proposed Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) says, "or until command is transferred to someone more qualified and/or to an emergency responder agency with legal authority to assume responsibility."
In addition, older students who receive hands-free CPR and first-aid training may be called upon to help, and many parent volunteers who wish to have an emergency-response role also can step up.
Forest Hills Elementary School Principal Amy Blakey told The Review this week that parent advisory groups will help develop safety plan priorities at her school in meetings that start this fall.
"We do have students bring in individual emergency kits with a few items specific to them, as well as keep up to date with all of our drills, etc.," Blakey said. "However, beyond those specific actions, we will wait for LOSD to direct further steps."
Although the School Board could officially adopt the EOP as soon as the board's next meeting on Aug. 14, Morelock said the plan is an evolving document that will be revised many times over the years. The board reviewed a draft of the plan at a July 17 meeting, during which he levied a solemn reminder.
"You have to remember," Morelock said quietly, "that you are in charge of" 7,000 children.
A plan comes together
School Board member Liz Hartman told The Review on Friday that she thinks the LOSD has done a terrific job of collaborating with the City to create a "very thoughtful, workable plan to keep children and staff safe."
"LOSD takes emergency training and planning seriously," she said.
Hartman said the most impressive part for her is staff's commitment to continuing to improve the emergency plan.
"I've been particularly impressed with how the district works with schools to perform drills to prepare both staff and students for these situations," she said.
Hartman noted that LOSD Superintendent Heather Beck discussed emergency planning during her job interview in 2014, and that it was "another one of those reasons we hired this superintendent."
"She comes from Colorado, where their schools are well-entrenched in emergency response plans," Hartman said.
Beck had served since 2003 (and in her last three years as chief academic officer) at Jeffco Public Schools. Jeffco is the district where, in 1999, two students at Columbine High School went on a shooting rampage that killed 13 people and wounded 23 others, before killing themselves. The district now is a partner in its
county's Emergency Operations Plan.
Jeffco follows the Standard Response Protocol (a classroom response for critical incidents) from the Colorado-based I Love U Guys Foundation, which offers free materials on emergency responses to school districts. Morelock said the LOSD is also using the materials from the Foundation for its Standard Response Protocol "as it relates to active threats, evacuations and reunifications."
Hartman called Beck's focus on emergency planning "part of her commitment to safety for all students and staff."
Beck noted that there was an emergency plan in place when she arrived in Lake Oswego, but that emergency planning is continuous.
"Since I started in 2014, I have prioritized emergency preparedness work among my team and value the partnerships we have developed with Lake Oswego first responders to get expert advice," Beck said. "Our goal is for all of our students and staff to be safe in any emergency. I am very proud of the work Joe Morelock and Randy Miller (the district's executive director of project management) have been leading, along with the training we have done with City personnel."
Morelock said the district has been concentrating on the creation of an EOP for the past two years and that staff received support from Lake Oswego police and fire departments to establish the plan.
Lake Oswego Police Capt. Dale Jorgensen said that as part of that help, Officer Mike Brady found training that the school district could do in partnership with first responders through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"The school district deserves big kudos for getting behind the process to do it," Jorgensen said. "They really saw the importance of it and did whatever was necessary, devoting time and their energy into making it happen."
Representatives of the school district and first responders visited Emmitsburg, Md., in March 2016 and again in March 2017 for the FEMA training.
Jorgensen said the EOP is crucial, but the relationships that have been built among the first responders and the district "will become really important" in any emergency.
"Police and fire and the school district, it's kind of like an orchestra," Jorgensen said. "We're all now on the same page of music. We know what the expectations are in a disaster."
In August 2016, school principals and central office administrators, along with several key district staff members and police and fire officials, participated in a tabletop exercise locally that simulated an emergency response. Each of a half-dozen teams was armed with aerial photos and layouts of school buildings for a hands-on activity that involved creating an ICS.
Additional training is planned during principals' in-service week, and all students and staff are expected to participate in ongoing training.
Speakers at the August 2016 exercise included Fire Chief Larry Goff, who told The Review on Monday that training and planning are both crucial; otherwise, he said, people might make incorrect assumptions about how they should react in an emergency.
Goff also echoed Morelock in saying that the EOP clearly details what the hazards are in this school district and how people would respond to individual, high-priority disastrous events.
"The main reason to have this plan is for the safety of the students and the faculty, and that we as a city are also involved in making sure our schools are safe," Goff said. "It certainly helps better prepare everyone for a potential event."