Parents crowded into the auditorium of the Manalapan-Englishtown Middle School Tuesday night to learn about the increased security measures being taken within the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School (MERS) District which have been prompted by the school killings in Newtown, Conn. in December.
Kerry Marsala, the Chair of the MERS District’s Emergency Management Planning Committee and the Principal of Taylor Mills School, presented the current emergency management plan that has been in place for years.
Marsala said that the emergency management plan is made up of four components: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Mitigation, or the reduction of long-term risk through action over time, and preparation, or coming up with a plan to minimize all damage during an emergency, are the main elements that a school works within so that the responses are easier, Marsala explained.
The emergency management plan also follows an all-hazards approach, which means that the planned response is the same regardless of the kind of emergency that occurs. Marsala said that this type of emergency management is the most efficient and effective approach based on research.
The district also uses an Incident Command System which helps school staff coordinate with emergency responders and ensures that they utilize similar terminology.
The MERS district completes a hazard analysis every year and reviews it whenever new information comes to light, or when our world changes.
“Our world changed on Dec. 14,” Marsala said, “And when our world changes we respond. How we respond may be immediate for some things and long-term on others.”
The biggest emergency management change in schools came in 1999 after the school shootings at Columbine. The district’s reaction after Columbine was swift, according to Marsala, who cited that a door lock system was implemented and the first emergency management system was put into place.
In 2007, after the shootings at Virginia Tech, the district responded by upgrading their reverse 911 system to reflect cell phones, text messages, and email capabilities.
Now, after the Newtown shootings, the district is responding again. The Board of Education approved a security improvements project on Jan. 8 which will update cameras, surveillance, and a stronger connection with the district’s security firm which will decrease emergency response time.
The district has also made their visitor access more stringent, requiring all visitors to be on a pre-approved list and to call the school thirty minutes prior to approaching the building for a visit. Marsala said that this change is significant and should not be underestimated.
Marsala said that the school district and the Manalapan Police Department have always been in constant communication and that the officers are more familiar with the school buildings and procedures than most other departments in the surrounding area.
In a recent survey, Marsala said that staff indicated that they feel very prepared for an emergency. The district began drilling for emergency situations before it was required by law. Lockdown drills, shelter in place, evacuation, table-top drills, and reverse evacuation drills are all practiced. Marsala said that these drills are being performed more and more at inconvenient times during the day, such as when the children are eating lunch.
Response and Recovery
With solid mitigation and preparedness, the response becomes more fluid and more easily managed should an emergency occur. Additionally, all recovery plans were implemented as soon as possible after the Newtown tragedy and will continue to be evaluated as more information about the incident comes to light.
Interested in contacting Kerry Marsala? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.