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District updates emergency response plans as new spaces and protocols are put in place

Aerial view of Kuhlman stadium with water tower in foreground.

Over the past school year, Edina Public Schools has been updating its crisis response plans as part of a system-wide effort to align facilities, procedures and best practice. As new learning spaces and secured entrances have been created, as a result of the 2015 Transforming Spaces construction referendum, the district leadership saw the need to also review and enhance its protocols and response plans to ensure staff have the supports and training they need to ensure safe and secure environments across the district.

“Unfortunately, we have seen too often that there is no guarantee that we can prevent every crisis, but we do know that by continually enhancing our emergency plans and making sure our staff are equipped with the right tools and education, we can better respond to situations when they arise,” said Director of Media and Technology Services Steve Buettner, who is charged with coordinating the district’s updated emergency response plans. “This is an ongoing process, and we will continue to train, monitor and improve our systems so they balance security with our desire to be welcoming to all.”

To assist Buettner in this effort, EPS contracted with Paul McCullough, a veteran of the Bloomington Police Department and current emergency management consultant who has worked with many metro area districts. McCullough and Buettner have been working since last fall with Edina Police and Fire Departments and school leaders reviewing safety and security measures at all district sites. An audit helped identify vulnerabilities and potential threats, and discussions with site staff and administration helped to assess perceived level of safety among stakeholders.  

On Monday, May 14, the Edina School Board received an update on the district’s safety and security plans. While some of the details were discussed in closed session as allowable under state statute, Buettner noted that the district is following the Incident Command System (ICS) model, a standardized management tool for meeting the demands of small or large emergency or nonemergency situations. According to the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), ICS represents "best practices" and has become the standard for emergency management across the country.

With the adoption of ICS, emergency response teams have been identified and trained for each EPS site, as has an enhanced district emergency response team. These teams have helped implement trainings and drills for students and staff that allow for clear understanding of roles and responsibilities during different emergency situations.

Following the four components of a crisis plan, the district’s plan focuses not only on responding to a crisis, but also strategies for mitigation and prevention, preparedness and recovery.

“Crises don’t happen in a vacuum,” said Jeff Jorgensen, director of student support services and a leader on the district’s emergency response team. “We know that we need to spend a lot of time looking at how we can prevent situations from happening as well as what supports are needed after the event is over. Our enhanced plan is more comprehensive in that it includes prevention, response and post-vention.”

The updated plans align with district policy and include facility improvements such as new secure vestibules and security technologies including cameras and main office intercoms for visitors. In addition, staff protocols for responding to events have been streamlined into one of five response categories. The “Safe Conditions” one-pager identifies protocols for staff to follow in the event of an evacuation, a lockdown, a shelter-inside scenario, severe weather situations, and stay put (medical emergency) incidents.

Finally, these protocols and technologies are assessed through enhanced drills conducted at all sites. All Minnesota schools are required to hold annual drills for fire, lockdown and tornado. Enhanced drills go one step further to actually simulate key components of an emergency event and help identify gaps in response plans and protocols.

According to Buettner, schools are conducting enhanced drills at many sites this spring. “We are running these drills in ways that are more realistic – without prior notice to all staff, and during unexpected times such as passing time or before and after school,” he said. “In doing this, we are better training our staff and students and can hopefully feel more prepared in the event an actual crisis happens.”