SPRINGFIELD – As the nation marks the ninth anniversary of the tragic shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on Sunday, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today highlighted progress made in Illinois’ efforts to ensure elementary and secondary school personnel are prepared to keep kids safe when dangerous situations arise. Since the Governor first announced his school security initiatives in fall 2004, more than 4,500 school personnel and local first responders have completed state-sponsored training designed to help them strengthen their school emergency response and crisis management plans. School administrators now also have clear guidance from the state on developing and reviewing school safety plans and on school safety drills.
“As parents, we depend upon teachers and school officials to keep our kids safe during the school day,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “While we can’t always prevent the unexpected from happening, we can give school personnel the knowledge and tools they need to keep our kids safe. Schools have enthusiastically embraced the training opportunities and guidance we’re offering, and I believe real progress has been made toward making our schools safer and better prepared.”
In October 2004, Gov. Blagojevich announced a multi-faceted school security initiative aimed at providing better protection for the state’s school children during emergencies. The three initiatives included launching a multi-hazard emergency planning training project to enhance local school safety and emergency operations plans; creation of an “all-hazard” school emergency drill statute to replace existing fire, bus and tornado drill statutes with streamlined rules; and creation of a comprehensive new state model emergency planning guide for schools.
On Aug.15, 2005, Gov. Blagojevich signed into law the new School Safety Drill Act, which significantly improved school emergency preparedness by, for the first time, setting clear, minimum requirements and standards for public and private school emergency planning. The law also requires schools to work closely with emergency first responder agencies in conducting annual reviews of the school Emergency and Crisis Response Plan.
In addition to guidance for fire, severe weather and bus drills, the act strongly encourages schools to conduct one drill in coordination with local law enforcement agencies to focus on such contingencies as active shooters, bomb threats, intruders and practice lock-down or reverse evacuation drills.
“It is unthinkable that someone would step into one of our classrooms and wish to do our students harm, but it is a sad reality that we must face and prepare for,” said State Superintendent Christopher A. Koch, Ed. D. "Our educators have become diligent in working toward the safety of all our students.”
Through the Safe School Security Training Project, which is funded by the Illinois Terrorism Task Force (ITTF), two training courses are available for personnel from public and private schools as well as local first responder agencies. The courses include a one-day session on “Forming Critical Incident Response Teams in Schools” and a two-day instructor train-the-trainer “Multi-Hazard Emergency Planning for Illinois Schools.” Both courses provide participants with the knowledge, skills and tools they need to develop emergency operations plans for a wide array of potential emergencies that schools may face. The courses focus on training school personnel and students in emergency response procedures, communicating emergency plans and procedures with parents, and coordinating with first responders, local emergency management, public health and mental health agencies.
Since the training courses began in late 2004, more than 100 one-day courses and 12 two-day courses have been held. A total of 765 of the state’s 889 public school districts have sent representatives to the training sessions, and 255 of the 1,253 non-public schools statewide have participated in the training courses. Several more sessions currently are scheduled through November.
“Just over three years ago, the Governor set a critical mission for us to help schools become better prepared to protect students from any type of hazard, whether it be a fire, a tornado, a hazardous materials spill or an armed intruder,” said Andrew Velasquez III, director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. “Today, more than 1,000 public and private schools have recognized the importance of all-hazards preparedness by taking advantage of our training sessions, and we will continue to work with schools to ensure they have the tools needed to keep their students safe.”
Information about the state’s school security efforts is available under “Schools” at www.ready.illinois.gov
. The site includes additional information about the training courses, a schedule for upcoming sessions, a template for school emergency and crisis response plan, and forms and documents to help schools ensure compliance with requirements of the School Safety Drill Act. The Ready Illinois website also provides emergency preparedness tips and information on what to do before, during and after disasters.