Jeff Hicks, Sergeant at Blount County Sheriff, has experienced a number of events both big and small that have allowed him to successfully build a community-wide safety plan in his county that includes the school district, the 911 call center and all the teams in between.
When an emergency occurred early one July morning that required sheltering of residents in the large local high school while many key administrators were on vacation, two questions came to Jeff’s mind: “Do I have the contacts for the school district to get the building opened?” and “Do I have the school district’s emergency operations plan?”.
Following this situation, it was clear to Jeff that communications and information sharing needed to be improved, and he realized that Emergency Management software could be used for “immediate access to vital information [and] to build a true community-wide plan.”
Building from the Ground Up
“Since each school has its own safety plan, it’s the logical place to start your community-wide initiative… We started with a vulnerability assessment for each school. Boy, was that an eye-opener. Some of our campuses did well in their vulnerability assessment. Others, not so well, but it wasn’t their fault. It was caused by lack of funding and resources. Going through this process showed us we had to prioritize some schools to bring everyone in the county to the same baseline.”
The next step involved bringing in their first responders. “We invited our first responders—EMS, fire, law enforcement—in for a lunch and I began with a little exercise: ‘How many people here have a kid or grandkid, a niece or nephew, in one of these schools?’ Practically everyone in the room raised their hand… By personalizing it, you draw these people in.”
“Then, we showed them each school’s vulnerability assessment. For law enforcement, they looked at the layout of the building, including access control. EMS also looked at access points. For the fire department, it was seeing the areas identified as HAZMAT.”
Finally, Jeff got 911 communications involved. “Through the softwarwe, whenever an alarm is triggered in one of the schools, it activates all the mobile devices at the 911 center. We’ve also tied in our camera system into the platform, so the 911 center can monitor a situation in the school as it unfolds.” One school in Jeff’s district was able to use the floor plans available to help EMS shave minutes off of an emergency by locating a back door to enter closer to the student in need.
Pulling it All Together
“To see how all the parts of this system can work in tandem, let’s look at the Respond module. As soon as someone on campus activates that app, it sounds mobile devices all through the area. We’re not talking just at the 911 center, but our EMS, fire, and law enforcement as well. Everyone is on alert that something is going on at that school.”
“Just look at what it does for even one part of an emergency procedure, like accountability. Some of our campuses contain an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school. In that case, we’re talking 3,000 kids. Our old system of accountability—teachers using different-color cards—was inefficient. Now, with the app, we can watch student accountability roll in on our mobile device. We know exactly who’s missing, immediately… The common denominator here is that information flows so quickly through the whole system.”
“Your schools, law enforcement, and 911 center may seem like separate entities, but safety only works if they’re all on the same page. Our community-wide safety initiative is truly collaborative. I hope our journey can serve as a roadmap for your own mission.”