August 10, 2014 at 11:48 pm

Counties help Metro Detroit schools meet new emergency drill mandates

Parent Robert Whittington was a volunteer monitoring the door and directing visitors to the office at Pierce Elementary School in Birmingham in 2013. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Keeping kids safe.

That is the impetus for county Homeland Security divisions to help Metro Detroit school districts report safety drills required under a new state law that took effect July 1.

The law mandates that Michigan schools conduct 10 emergency drills each year and lays out reporting requirements for districts to ensure exercises are adequately planned and carried out.

Under the measure, districts must file their schedule of drills for the school year with their county emergency liaison by Sept. 15. Schools also must post information on their websites within 30 days of completing an exercise.

Oakland County’s manager of the Homeland Security division, Ted Quisenberry, said the new law makes it easier to “make sure everyone involved is doing what they’re supposed to do to make kids safe.”

He said districts already have a portal to report health issues to the county health department, so they’re using the existing portal now to report the drills.

“It’s a one-stop shop for schools,” he said. “Oakland County schools can go right into the portal to enter their schedule, and each time a drill is completed, they no longer have to notify first responders directly because it first comes to us electronically, and then to the first responders in the cities of each district.”

The new law requires five fire drills (three before Dec. 1), three lockdown drills and two severe weather drills (one in March, before severe weather season). Schools cannot hold more than one drill a day, and at least one drill must occur during a lunch or recess period.

The new law, passed in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre in December 2012, reduces the number of fire drills by one and adds one lockdown drill.

The Birmingham Public Schools district is in the process of complying with the new law.

“We have reviewed the aspects of the new law and made adjustments as needed,” said spokeswoman Marcia Wilkinson. “If we become aware of other needed adjustments, we will quickly make them.”

Wilkinson said this new way of reporting differs from the previous standard because the district had not been reporting its drill schedule online.

“We will start doing so,” she said. “The intent of the law is for safer schools. The additional drills and the added requirements will ensure a safer environment for our students and staff.”

The Bloomfield Hills School District also is working on compliance with the law, though officials wish the state was helping districts bear the labor costs needed to meet the reporting mandates, district spokeswoman Shira Good said.

“While ‘unfunded mandates’ aren’t helpful to our overall district budget, this is an incredibly important topic and one that deserves a great amount of our attention,” Good said.

“Our No. 1 priority as a district is providing a safe learning environment, and this will help us in that regard. However, Michigan legislators should consider what financial support they intend to provide to districts for safety initiatives.”

She also said the district’s communication team has a plan in place to put the drill reports on the new district Data Dashboard.

“We work throughout the school year to complete the drills in a helpful manner, not just ‘check the box,’ said Good. “This helps us identify any weaknesses and improve overall safety in each building.

“This new law will allow our parents and community to see, on our website, when our drills are conducted,” she said.

Wayne County also is preparing for the changes.

Officials are working with the Michigan Emergency Management Association on an interactive, Web-based reporting tool to comply with the changes in school drill reporting law, according to Timothy McGillivary, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

“We anticipate having the reporting tool online shortly,” he said.

“Wayne County, through its Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, has been a staunch advocate for school safety.”

He said personnel from Wayne RESA, the county’s intermediate school district, are members of the Wayne County Local Planning Team.

“We have partnered with both RESA and Wayne County Law Enforcement on school safety initiatives,” he said. “In regards to the school drill reporting, I see it being helpful to the schools in consolidating information and achieving regulatory compliance.”

Macomb County’s director of emergency management and communications, Victoria Wolber, said officials are using a “Google Doc form that will be available online, on our website and emailed to each superintendent.”

“This online reporting tool will provide easy access for the schools to report,” she said.

She said each individual school can have a representative respond, or a district can respond for all of their buildings, and the system can be accessed any time of day or night.

“Further, the information for all of our districts will be available almost immediately for dissemination to our local first responders,” she said. “This also helps the schools to be better prepared through advanced planning and coordination by sharing the dates and times with local first responders.”

She said Macomb County implemented this online reporting tool for school officials, first responders and their staff “for its accessibility, ease of use and no cost.”

SLewis@detroitnews.com
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