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Escanaba schools prepare for emergencies

ESCANABA — In December, the Escanaba School Board adopted an Emergency Operations Plan. The plan had to be written before administration applied for a Michigan State Police safety grant, so it was created the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.

“The district had to have an emergency plan in place. That’s when we really started working on the big plan, not just the normal things that you prepare for as a school,” said Escanaba Superintendent Coby Fletcher. “That started last year, and we’ve refined it as we’ve gone, to the point at which we took it to the board for formal approval.”

The plan had to be approved by Escanaba Public Safety and the Delta County emergency management coordinator. Together, they came up with different scenarios to put in the plan. Changes to the 2019-2020 plan included topics that were not included before.

“You don’t think much about a chemical attack, or a chemical spill in the vicinity, or a biological attack … we had to include plans for things like that,” said Fletcher. “We had to include information about just natural type disasters that our area might be prone to and how we would respond to those.”

The Emergency Operations Plan is a living document and every year Fletcher plans to revisit it to make appropriate changes as technology improves and scenarios arise.

“There are always new things that you hadn’t thought about, that nobody knew you had to plan for,” said Fletcher.

The purpose of the plan is to identify employee duties and how to respond to incidents by outlining responsibilities. Escanaba doesn’t allow staff to carry a gun, and doesn’t allow firearms in the building.

“If we knew that there was a weapon on campus, not held by a law enforcement official, we would go into lockdown procedures,” Fletcher noted.

While Fletcher has been superintendent there has not been cause to lockdown the school due to direct threats within or toward the school district, according to Fletcher.

“There will be times when law enforcement would contact us and say something occurred close to a school,” said Fletcher. “…We lockdown as a precaution.”

A copy of the plan is housed in each school and includes procedures for natural disasters such as earthquake, flooding, tornado, and winter storm. Hazards caused by people include: chemical-hazardous materials, fire, nuclear facility incident, power outage, water system failure, accidents, medical emergency, mass contamination, apparent suicide, bomb threat, civil disorder, death on campus, explosion, hostage situation, intruder, kidnapping-abduction, reports of weapon on campus, sexual assault, terrorism, and weapons assault. Immediate actions by administration and teachers to the hazards may include, lockdown, evacuation, or shelter-in-place.

Authorities are contacted different ways, depending on the situation. RAVE Mobile Safety, an application that can be installed in any mobile phone, provides a way for individuals to communicate with the community. The Rave Panic Button is a one button push that accelerates emergency response time. After setting up the program, it communicates emergency type, and location details to authorities, on-site personnel and first responders.

“All Delta County school administrators and teachers have the ability to use the Rave alert system,” said Delta County Emergency Management Coordinator Paul Reyer. “The installed app can be used in emergency situations, and to send administrative messages between schools.”

The Rave program is available throughout the Upper Peninsula. According to Reyer counties, have to choose to use it before a school district can use it.

“The program was supplied via a regional home land security grant and is available U.P.-wide for all counties to use,” said Reyer.

When the Rave Panic Button is pressed from a mobile phone everyone in the school district is notified, including local law enforcement. All of the buildings in the Escanaba School District have been mapped out by a virtual geographic boundary, or geofenced. The information is provided to local dispatch.

“All of our buildings are geofenced,” said Fletcher. “So, if I hit that button it would not only notify law enforcement of an active assailant, it would also notify law enforcement exactly where that button was pushed (from).”

Fletcher said the school administration has used the application’s ‘staff assist’ button for in-district serious situations that do not require law enforcement involvement.

“If a teacher has a student who is out of control in a building, and they need help … they can just hit the staff assist button and the message will go out to crisis teams,” said Fletcher.

The school district used all $110,368 received through the 2019 Competitive School Safety Grant Program to improve security.

“We used all the grant money,” Fletcher said. “We put in a district wide camera system … in our old system you could only see the cameras in your building, and sometimes you had to log into different servers to see cameras within the same building,” said Fletcher. “Now we have very high quality cameras with good images and resolution.”

Real-time action is shared with law enforcement and can be accessed from any camera by anyone with permissions. According to Fletcher, schools in other states that had active shooters also had a lag in the camera’s video.

“…Cameras had a lag and so they were seeing where the shooter was, but not where he was at the right time. Our cameras are all real-time now,” Fletcher said.

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