SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod Blagojevich today unveiled three new initiatives to ensure greater protection for the state’s schoolchildren during major emergencies and disasters. In addition to the precautionary measures, the Governor called on school officials and first responders to join forces to update school emergency plans so they better address the broad range of hazards facing schools today.
“Each day, parents send their children off to school and rightly expect that they will be safe,” Governor Blagojevich said. “But as we’ve seen, disasters can happen anywhere – even at school. We need to prepare our schools for any possible threat, before it happens here in Illinois.”
In a letter being mailed to every public school district, school superintendent, and fire and police chief in the state, Governor Blagojevich announced the three initiatives and asked officials to join together to review, update and practice school emergency response plans and ensure school personnel are familiar with the plans.
The Governor’s three initiatives include a new pilot program in which a core group of trainers will provide training and technical assistance to five school districts, helping them to improve their ability to design, implement, and practice crisis response and management plans. School personnel from the five districts will attend a half-day training program that will include a table-top exercise in which participants can utilize their new skills.
“Any emergency or disaster that happens during the school day impacts schools, whether it happens in the community or at the school,” Governor Blagojevich said. “Schools must be prepared to deal with the variety of threats that exist in the world today, and unfortunately this includes the threat of terrorism. Through this pilot program, we’ll provide school districts with the tools they need to revise their emergency plans to appropriately address all types of threats.”
The pilot program, which has already been designed, will be fully implemented by the end of this November.
The Governor’s second initiative calls for development of a new, comprehensive state emergency planning guide for schools that would merge and update two school guides currently in existence. The Illinois Terrorism Task Force (ITTF) and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) will collaborate on the new guide.
“During a major disaster in Illinois, it’s important to know that all schools are following the same guidance for their emergency procedures,” said Mike Chamness, ITTF chairman. “The Terrorism Task Force looks forward to joining with the State Board of Education in developing an updated emergency planning guide that will be an effective tool for Illinois schools.”
“Schools need current, consistent information to have effective emergency plans in place,” said ISBE Interim Superintendent Randy Dunn. “We echo the Governor’s commitment to student safety and are anxious to work with ITTF on a resource to help schools prepare for the new kinds of threats they face today.”
The third initiative calls for the development of a new “all-hazards” school drill statute, designed to prepare schools for an array of potential events. This will involve development of one, new statute to replace the existing fire and tornado drill statutes and regulations. The new rules will provide better and clearer guidance to schools on preparing emergency plans, training staff and working with local first responders to effectively practice those plans.
“School fire drills are an institution at schools and have helped ingrain in students the actions they need to take during a fire,” said State Fire Marshal J.T. Somer. “I believe we can build on the success of the existing fire and tornado drills as we develop other school drills that will prepare them for other disaster scenarios.”