Although recent events have brought school security and safety under scrutiny, moves to evaluate and improve emergency preparedness in Cabot School District had already been under way, school superintendent Tony Thurman said Thursday.
Thurman was speaking before a gathering of law enforcement, fire, emergency medical and other first response agencies in the area in a review of the district’s accident response checklist.
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School at Newtown, Conn., happened after the evaluation of Cabot School District’s emergency procedures had begun, Thurman said.
Thursday’s meeting was to discuss the procedures should a bus incident occur, Thurman said.
On Jan. 29, school officials conducted a series of lockdown drills at four campuses that were observed by first responders for recommendations. Those drills also had been coordinated prior to December, Thurman said.
At the meeting on Thursday, school officials and emergency responders discussed triage requirements, accident scene management, student lists, seating charts, as well as managing medically fragile students, special needs, 70 to 80 scared, restless students and, often, equally frightened parents.
Robert Martin, director of student services, detailed the tasks required of bus drivers, transportation officials and other school staff, including the director of student services, principals, nurse coordinator and director of counseling, in case of a bus accident.
The district runs more than 90 bus routes transporting about 5,500 students daily, Thurman said. "That’s a lot of kids on the road, every single morning, every single afternoon," he said.
The challenges are that the district’s response for mornings is different from that in the afternoon; also, there is no consistency in what information law enforcement agencies require, Thurman said.
The need for coordination was underscored in a recent accident near Ward, Thurman said. "It seemed that with every agency that came up to us, they told us they wanted something different … We just need to have an organized understanding of what people actually need from us," he said.
The time of day comes into play because in the morning, the students are going to a central location and it is easier to manage the situation; in the afternoon they are being dispersed and the controls are not available, he said.
Also, with the communication afforded by cell phones, it is a given that parents will be made aware of what is happening and will come to the scene, Thurman said.
District officials and employees often find themselves divided between a bus full of restless students and anxious parents who are being kept apart by law enforcement officials who demand particular information before allowing anyone to leave the scene.
"But the thing that worries me the most … [what to do] in the event that we have an accident that is so severe that we have kids who are hurt, " Thurman said.
"We need to understand exactly what [first responders] need to expedite the process when we have an accident," Thurman said. Most importantly, what is required in case of injuries, he said.
"How would district officials find out which students had been transported, where the students were taken, and what actions are needed at the hospital … because I still have to get parents there," Thurman said.
Information folders will be prepared for the buses, listing the information needed by first responders, Thurman said at the end of the meeting.
Cabot Fire Chief Phil Robinson suggested conducting an accident simulation, although no date was suggested.
First responders were also given a copy of the district emergency response plans, covering evacuations, fire, severe weather and other contingencies.