NIAGARA FALLS – Like school districts everywhere, the Niagara Falls city schools are re-examining their safety programs as the nation continues to come to grips with the brutal execution of 20 first-graders and six adult educators in last Friday’s school invasion in Newtown, Conn.
But unlike in many other districts, the effort here was under way before that tragedy occurred.
Public schools here have two separate committees dedicated to safety, according to a report prepared by public relations director Judie Gregory-Glaser.
By coincidence, Gregory-Glaser prepared the report for publication in the December 2012 issue of the school district’s newsletter shortly before the massacre in Connecticut, and her report does not refer specifically to that attack. It does, however, point out steps that have been taken to safeguard students and staff here in almost any imaginable emergency.
“At the district level, team members meet every few weeks to discuss emergency scenarios and plan drills and evacuations, to plan responses and preventive measures for illnesses like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and swine flu, and to plan needed staff development training in such areas as cardiopulmonary resuscitation or use of an automated external defibrillator,” she wrote.
“Members also discuss emergency communications systems and communication with parents and guardians.”
That committee consists of School Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco, Deputy Superintendent Mark Laurrie, a safety specialist from the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, a nurse practitioner, a liaison with the Police Department, emergency medical technicians and other school administrators.
“The district also has a Circle of Safety Committee, which was initially formed in response to controversy surrounding sexual predators, but which has evolved to address any safety issues,” Gregory-Glaser wrote for the “Our Schools” newsletter.
Members of that committee include representatives of the Police Department, Niagara County Sheriff’s Office and City Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson.
The public relations director said that committee “meets occasionally and as needed to share information that may affect the safety of students and staff.” She said, “Virtually every conceivable risk is discussed and planned for by these committees.”
Recent recommendations to the superintendent have included evacuation drills, updated outdoor video surveillance cameras, updated communication radios, and the acquisition of more, highly visible vests for those helping students in evacuating across busy streets.
Every school building has a designated evacuation site, and the schools themselves can become evacuation sites in case of a community disaster elsewhere.
Gregory-Glaser said, “It is important for parents and guardians to know that in the event of any threat to the safety of students – be it man-made or organic in nature – you will be notified via the telephone broadcast messaging systems. It is therefore imperative that correct phone numbers are on file at the school your child attends.”
The telephone messaging system also is used to announce school closings caused by snow, fallen power lines, large numbers of downed tree limbs or other hazards. If schools are to be closed, students can expect to be notified by 6:30 a.m., Gregory-Glaser said.