SAFER SCHOOLS NEWS-VOL. 70
“It’s fortunate that we just went through a practice drill similar to this.”
These were the words of a principal at one of the Conway schools. (For now, all names are being withheld.) They came about an hour after a blast at a chemical plant that sent a huge cloud of smoke into the air. Phone lines and even the internet sites for Conway Public Schools were jammed. Since Keys had worked with this District for several years and 8 month earlier conducted a Facility Site Safety Survey which this plant was identified , we called to offer help, if needed. We never go without being asked unless we are specifically included in the Multi-Hazard Crisis Plan. Even those who can help should always assess the need for their presence against being another body in the way of a working plan. So we called, and listened to several busy signals. We got through to this principal because we knew they were probably not downwind of the chemical cloud and the crisis would not likely be as severe there. The principal was eager to talk, not from any sense of desperation, but it gave her an opportunity to bounce her actions off of someone that she knew was familiar with their school and their plans.
There was a general lack of communication after the initial notification, which is normal and acceptable. The key members of the Crisis Teams were busy performing their assigned tasks and not in a position to be passing on updates. Also, there was very little new or pertinent information to pass along. This period of communication slowdown can be very frustrating and nerve racking…unless you are prepared for it. The principal knew this and knew to make decisions and take actions without access to further guidance. We were only playing the role of her “check list.” (not that she needed it) Her particular situation points out one of the things that Keys always emphasizes in trainings, that is, you will always want or need more information than is available. We asked if she knew anything about the nature of the chemical cloud. It was within sight of her school and she had received no information other than “someone” on the television saying that he thought the cloud was contaminated with bacteria or viruses. This was of course wrong. The cloud most likely was contaminated with chemical vapors that may or may not have been toxic. The answer is to assume it is until proven otherwise and this was the chosen course of action. The principal called a lock down and suspended all outdoors activities. She had started identifying the doors and other areas that would not seal and prevent a gas from entering the building. She asked, “Will people think I am crazy if I start taping doors.” we responded, “Maybe. But if the wind shifts and you save a life, you will be a saint.” She offered her thanks as she said that was what she was going to do anyway, she just wanted to hear what we thought. She said the biggest challenge was getting everyone busy without getting them panicked. She then closed with the statement above: “It’s fortunate that we just went through a practice drill similar to this.” See Crisis Response Drills/Exercises
Elsewhere schools were being relocated (a play on evacuated) to other classroom space and activity areas. A parent/student reunification program was put into play and worked extremely well. When you have a plan and practice your plan, your crisis will not be as severe. Our thought and prayers are with the people of Conway. Our congratulations go out to the Superintendent and his support staff for the professional way they met this crisis need.
Detco Industries. is a manufacturer of various chemical products. As such they have large quantities of chemicals, some volatile and some toxic, on hand. Today, at 11:15am tragedy struck as this plant exploded and then burned. Detco has an excellent safety record and is important in the economic picture of Conway. They had contingency plans in place and those appear to be working as there were only two injuries and no reported fatalities from this incident. This chemical plant is next door to a school and close to several others.
Are there such places near your school? What Chemicals are traveling the highway or rails near your schools? Do you have rock solid plans in place that that you know will work? If you have questions or need help, please contact Keys today at 800-504-7355 or Keys@KeysToSaferSchools.com . Our Trainings dealing with response and contingency plans for;
* Conventional Crises * Chemical Crises * Biological Crises * Nuclear Crises * People Crises
These trainings are to help schools meet Act 648 and to help them quality plans in place.
What you do makes a difference!
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