Make Emergency Preparedness Your New Year’s Resolution
As the year winds to a close, we want to take a moment to applaud our partners in emergency preparedness for all the work you did in your schools, districts, higher ed institutions, communities, and states to support safe and supportive learning environments in 2017. Thank you, also, for your collaboration with us at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), its Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS), and OSHS’s Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance (TA) Center to help enhance school preparedness across the nation.
The start of a new year is a perfect time to reflect on not only all you have accomplished in the past 12 months, but also make resolutions for new action. This may mean reflecting on lessons learned from drills, exercises, or actual emergencies that occurred, and creating, reviewing, and revising your emergency operations plan (EOP) as a result.
As you reflect, questions that you may ask key stakeholders include: “Did our school district, school, or institution of higher education (IHE) conduct any drills or exercises that made us reevaluate procedures? Were there opportunities to maximize relationships with partners or neighboring agencies that we missed? Did an emergency happen that forced us to take a look the effectiveness of our functional annexes? Was there something new that we learned from a REMS TA Center or federal partner training or resource that can be incorporated into our team’s emergency preparedness planning?” Planning teams can use these questions and others as a guide when debriefing on the successes of the year, possible areas for plan improvement, and sources of capacity building. They can also consider conducting the following activities at the start of the year to support the creation of a high-quality plan and overall emergency management program development.
- Visit sites referenced in the EOP. Schedule mini–field trips around your school grounds and IHE campuses to visit relevant sites discussed in the plan, such as evacuation, triage, reunification, and media areas, with key stakeholders. The goal should be to not only assess the safety and security of buildings and grounds, but to also consider how functions (evacuation, reunification, medical and mental first aid, communication) will work simultaneously during and after an emergency, and whether adjustments to site layout or processes can be made to enhance mitigation, protection, response, and recovery.
- Give involved parties appropriate resources specific to emergency plans, policies, and procedures. The New Year can serve as a good time to review key courses of action for goals and objectives in your EOP, and to distribute any visual aids that planning and response teams can use as quick reference guides. Make sure that any new staff members joining the team during the spring semester are aware of all relevant plans, policies, and procedures, and that all staff members are updated on any state and/or local laws that inform changes in courses of action.
- Familiarize students and staff members with the plan in collaboration with community partners. K-12 education agencies can consider having community partners such as law enforcement and emergency medical services personnel visit schools to remind students of the role partners play in ensuring their safety. Along with exercises designed to test EOPs, community partners can share information about non-school-sponsored events in which students can participate to support whole school community preparedness. The return from winter break is a great time for IHE campuses to host workshops that help students brush up on personal safety topics such as individual preparedness and fire safety. It’s also a good time to host a Campus CERT program or
campus-wide exercises in collaboration with community partners or neighboring institutions.
- Train staff members on the skills necessary to fulfill their roles. Practice may not make perfect when it comes to emergency management, but practice does support preparedness! Ensure that staff members assigned to roles that require special training, such as first aid or threat assessment, are up to date on the latest certifications, standards, and research required for their area of expertise. Use exercises planned throughout the year as opportunities to reinforce important concepts. Do you support higher ed emergency management? The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is recruiting an IHE to host the 2018 National Seminar and Tabletop Exercise for Institutions of Higher Education. Think your IHE may be interested? Submit an application by 11:59 p.m. EST on Wednesday, January 10, 2018!
Study Abroad Safely—New Resources to Help You Plan
Studying abroad is an increasingly popular academic endeavor that allows students to learn about other cultures, collaborate across international boundaries, and prepare for a globalized world. According to the Institute for International Education, 1,078,822 students participated in study abroad programs in the 2016–2017 academic year, an increase of 31 percent since the 2012–2013 school year. Despite the multitude of benefits that study abroad programs provide to K-12 and higher ed students, they are not traveling without risk. Students face language barriers, differing social norms, and the threat of international crime or other emergencies, all of which mean that school and higher ed study abroad offices must ensure students are as safe and prepared as possible before traveling overseas and while they are abroad.
There are a variety of federal resources that study abroad offices can access to support the safety of students as you gear up for Winter 2018 programs, and plan ahead for Summer 2018 and Fall 2018 programs. They include the following:
- An archived version of the October Webinar, Preparing for Study Abroad Emergencies for Higher Education and K-12 Populations, ED’s OSHS and REMS TA Center hosted in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to discuss the process for addressing emergencies abroad, share case studies, and highlight resources and support available when preparing for incidents.
- Preparing for Study Abroad Emergencies, a NEW fact sheet the REMS TA Center created for schools and IHEs to support the integration of study abroad safety planning into EOPs. See the “New Fact Sheets on Topics in K-12 School Emergency Management” article in this newsletter for a description.
- The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service that allows travelers to provide their travel information with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to help them locate the traveler in an emergency.
- CDC’s Travelers Health Web Page, which provides current health information by destination and allows users to register via email to receive the latest updates from CDC’s Travelers’ Health division.
- The Overseas Security and Advisory Council Website, which produces analysis on security incidents as they unfold around the world.
Stay tuned for information about a new Travel Advisory system that the U.S. Department of State will be launching in mid-January. Follow https://travel.state.gov for details.
The Opioid Epidemic—a Rising Public Health Emergency
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, young adults aged 18-25 are the largest group of abusers of opioid pain relievers, as well as other drugs such as anti-anxiety medications and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder medications. This is a troubling statistic considering that 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, a number that the CDC reports has quadrupled since 1999. While many K-12 schools and even some states are implementing opioid abuse prevention programs (e.g., this past fall, Maryland lawmakers passed legislation requiring that students receive education on the dangers of opioid abuse twice in elementary school, once in high school, and again as incoming college freshmen), research shows that the higher ed community has traditionally focused on alcohol as the primary target of drug prevention programs. Although alcohol abuse and binge drinking remain the most prevalent issues for college health centers, with 1.2 million full-time college students reporting alcohol use compared to 4,570 using heroin, according to
SAMHSA, the opioid epidemic may be shifting this trend. A 2015 study by The Ohio State University found that 33.5 percent of undergraduates and 29.8 percent of graduate students stated it was easy or very easy to procure prescription pain medication.
Fentanyl, a particularly potent synthetic opioid, is contributing to an increasing number of overdoses. Due to the strength of fentanyl, anyone coming in contact with its particles is strongly advised to take precautions to prevent an accidental overdose. Fentanyl Safety Recommendations for First Responders, published by the White House, describes actions that individuals can take to prevent an accidental overdose, both before exposure and after exposure to the substance. Both IHEs and schools can refer to this guide in the event that fentanyl is suspected to be present.
Members of emergency management teams at IHEs should consider incorporating opioid abuse prevention initiatives into behavioral health programs and EOPs in collaboration with campus public health officials. Strategies include:
- Incorporating opioid prevention education into existing health education programs for incoming students;
- Informing students of any medical amnesty policies that may provide a reprieve for them regarding punishment if they intervene in drug overdoses; and
- Training key staff members such as public safety officials and health department staff in administering Naloxone. Naloxone is a medication that quickly reverses an opioid overdose. If a person has stopped breathing, it can restore normal respiration.
Meet SITE ASSESS—A NEW REMS TA Center Tool to Help K-12 Schools and School Districts Conduct Site Assessments
Are you planning to check the safety of new or existing school buildings or grounds as a part of an annual safety assessment in 2018? Is your facilities management team planning a spring walk-through of the school grounds to check for issues caused by winter weather? SITE ASSESS, the newest addition to our suite of EOP Interactive Tools, can help! This mobile iOS- and Android-based application allows school and school district personnel to walk around a school building and its grounds to conduct a comprehensive site assessment. It equips users with information and knowledge about key fundamental site assessment topics; allows users to add locale- and school-specific questions and to skip entire sections that are not applicable to their education agency; generates a customized to-do list that may be used in the short term and long term to address facility improvements; and contains relevant resources on several education facility and safety topics. Information from assessments can be used by school planning teams as they develop high-quality EOPs. Data collected from the assessment not only illuminates the potential threats and hazards that a school may face, but also aids schools in evaluating and comparing the risks and vulnerabilities associated with each threat or hazard. In turn, school planning teams can prioritize threats and hazards to address directly in the school EOP and enhance the school’s overall safety and emergency preparedness.
Planning to use SITE ASSESS and need support? Visit our SITE ASSESS Community of Practice (CoP) Forum to pose questions to REMS TA Center technical support staff and others in the field using the app. Technical support can also always be received by contacting us at email@example.com.
New Fact Sheets on Key Topics in K-12 and Higher ed Emergency Management
Our suite of fact sheets on key topics in school and higher ed emergency management continues to grow! This fall, we released 10 NEW fact sheets on topics including the five preparedness mission areas; study abroad; cyber safety and cybersecurity; and managing donations and volunteers. Feel free to include links to and descriptions of each fact sheet in the next correspondence you share with your constituents. Find details below.
- Five Preparedness Mission Area Fact Sheets. Each fact sheet defines the mission area, discusses how the mission area is related to the other mission areas, identifies potential activities falling under each mission area that EOP planning teams may want to consider completing, and describes how these activities can be incorporated into an EOP. Additional resources are provided for each, as well.
Preparing for Study Abroad Emergencies Fact Sheet. This fact sheet provides brief statistics on study abroad programs in the United States and discusses methods schools and IHEs can use to integrate international travel into their EOPs via the creation of a Study Abroad Annex; highlights the creation of plans that describe specific emergency protocols for groups abroad; and describes how to create individual plans for individuals who are traveling alone. Specific steps institutions can take to prepare for emergencies abroad before, during, and after an incident are provided with supporting resources from federal agencies listed.
Cyber Safety and Cybersecurity Fact Sheets. These fact sheets provide details regarding the types of cyber threats to school, school district, and IHE information technology networks and systems. They describe what education agencies can do to protect systems and networks before, during, and after a cyber incident, and how to create a Cyber Annex as a part of a school or higher ed EOP.
- Managing Donations and Volunteers Fact Sheet. This fact sheet discusses why an influx of donations and volunteers can present challenges and the need for education agencies to create related plans. It highlights operational aspects education agencies should consider in partnership with key agencies and organizations, and sample goals and objectives for managing donations and volunteers before, during and after emergencies that impact school and campus communities.
2018 Webinar Topics
Be on the lookout for information and dates for upcoming Webinars we are hosting in collaboration with ED’s OSHS, other federal partners, and key representatives from the field of K-12 and higher ed emergency preparedness! The following topics will be covered in the coming months:
- Donations and Volunteer Management;
- Updated National Incident Management System/Incident Command System Guidance; and
- Addressing Transportation Emergencies in School Emergency Planning.
As a member of our mailing list, you will receive information regarding when these events will be held, along with information on how to register. Additionally, our Webinars page will be updated with the latest information.
Brush Up on Your Emergency Planning This Year
The REMS TA Center offers a variety of resources that you can use to brush up on your knowledge of emergency planning topics this year. These include the following:
- EOP Interactive Tools. Our EOP Interactive Tools support individuals and planning teams in assessing, evaluating, and creating comprehensive, high-quality education agency EOPs that address a range of threats and hazards.
- Virtual Trainings. Our Online Courses and Webinars provide individual and shared opportunities to learn more about focused topics within school and higher ed emergency management. We provide archived versions of every Webinar we host; and to access our Online Courses, all you need to do is register for an account.
- Tool Box. The Tool Box is a repository of tools and resources developed by school and higher ed emergency managers from across the country. It includes job descriptions, procedures, and drills and tabletop exercises, among others. Submit your resource for inclusion today!
- Community of Practice (CoP). The CoP is an online forum for emergency management practitioners to post questions, answer questions, and find resources on a variety of topics. Be on the lookout for a NEW chat feature we are introducing in 2018!
- Specialized Training Packages. Our downloadable packages feature self-paced materials to support training in high-quality emergency preparedness across a range of special topics. Individuals and planning teams may use these materials to refresh their knowledge or use them to train others. Each package includes training instructions, a PowerPoint presentation and supplemental resources, and tabletop exercises are included with some.
- NEW Topic-Specific Resources Web pages. Our topic-specific Web pages house REMS TA Center, ED, and federal agency partner resources on planning basics and principles and common emergency management functions schools, school districts, IHEs, and their community partners can use to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a variety of threats and hazards. It is organized into three subcategories: Emergency Management Functions, Hazards and Threats, and Planning Basics and Principles.
Have a Question? Need a Resource? Seeking Research Support? We’re Here to Help!
Curious about a school safety topic? Wondering how to approach planning for a unique threat or hazard at your site? Need resources to support your higher ed emergency preparedness efforts? No matter the question or need, the REMS TA Center is here to help. Our staff members are available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST to provide informed answers and related resources in response to your individual and unique questions on a wide variety of topics related to school safety, security, and emergency management and preparedness. View a preview of some of the questions we’ve answered from the field. Please don’t hesitate to contact us via email, telephone, or our online TA Request Form.
If you have any questions or need additional assistance, please contact the REMS TA Center at 1-855-781-REMS  or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.