02/11/16 >> Jordan School District Emergency Communications

Jordan School District Emergency Communications
In 2014 our school district experienced multiple closings due to extreme cold weather and snowy conditions. Extreme weather fluctuates year to year, but weather closures are nothing unique to parents and students in Minnesota. More than ever, school districts need to plan for closures due to emergencies, such as building lockdowns. Providing a safe environment and ensuring timely communications are important strategic directions for the Jordan School District.  

Emergency Action Plan
Recently our District completed a comprehensive review of its Emergency Action Plan or EAP. All Districts have an EAP which guides emergency decision making specific to fire, severe weather, and crisis situations. We worked in close cooperation with the Jordan Police Department’s Chief Empey and Officer Strack who organized site visit walk-throughs with the Minnesota Chapter of Homeland Security School Safety Division. All three buildings in our District were toured, suggestions to improve our plan were made, and our existing EAP was adjusted. These changes were presented to all school staff on January 25. Besides a large group training, situational training was provided to smaller staff groups. This thought provoking situational work is important to develop critical thinking skills in the event of an emergency situation on our campus or in the community. 

Significant changes in EAP
Significant changes were made in particular to the district’s shelter-in-place and fire drill guidelines and protocol. Going forward, based on the recommendations from the Homeland Security Safety Division, our students and staff will be reacting to an intruder threat by conducting an immediate “threat assessment.” Based on this assessment, our students and staff will either shelter in place or work to get out of the building. The important thing to note is that every situation is different and our staff and students must be trained to react to the unique situation rather than following a “one size fits all” reaction protocol.

Fire drills are also going to be handled differently in the future with immediate evacuations no longer being the “norm.” All of our buildings are fully equipped with sprinkler systems and can suppress fire very quickly. This fact, combined with the statistic that significant injuries or deaths from a fire in schools is a thing of the past with new technology such as our fire suppression systems. Recent tragic events and emergency management studies show that it may be more dangerous to evacuate a building immediately when a fire alarm is pulled as this alarm may be a “dummy alarm” designed to cause harm to building occupants. Students and staff will still consider evacuating if a fire alarm is sounding, but not until a threat assessment is conducted. Since this is a significant change to past practice, our students and staff will practice and discuss this via situational drill work this spring.

Communicating to our Staff and Families 
Public communication during a weather closure and/or a crisis situation is critical. Typically, during a weather closure, we have more lead time and the ability to notify our families with little issue. However, a lockdown can pose more complications and we ask our public to understand that critical information will be given as quickly as we can provide it. We are very fortunate to have the Jordan Police Department in such close proximity on a daily basis which allows for advisement regarding our procedures and protocol throughout an incident.

Currently, our most immediate medium for notification is the SchoolReach system. SchoolReach allows for phone, email, or text communications. When an emergency phone message is placed in our district, it is launched to approximately 8000 phone lines, both land and cell. This system is effective, but given the fact that we still live in somewhat of a rural area, cell towers haven’t always been able to handle the volume of calls pushed out through our system in a short amount of time. We have been made aware of the fact that SchoolReach may leave messages on phones or may not be able to contact a cell phone at all if the notification is pushed out quickly and the volume of calls “floods the networks.” The District is working with SchoolReach/SchoolMessenger, our emergency notification system provider to optimize the system. 

We ask parents and guardians to be patient and understanding when an emergency notification is distributed. Often, our administrators and administrative assistants are inundated with phone calls during these difficult situations and it is often a stressful and overwhelming time. Our primary focus during an emergency situation is ensure the safety and security of our students and staff. 

If you have a student in the district, the information you provide is updated on the SchoolReach system nightly. For this reason, it is critical to supply your most up-to-date contact information. You can do this by calling your student's school or by contacting the District Office at 952-492-6200.

Secondary to the SchoolReach system and its voice, email, and text features, we will notify of closures or emergencies via the Jordan School District Facebook, Twitter, and the district website (www.jordan.k12.mn.us).

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