Friday, July 18, 2014

School Evacuation...You Never Know When...?

School Gas Leak Incident: (Derby, Connecticut) At approximately 9:53 am on Thursday July 17th, Derby High School was evacuated due to a natural gas leak reported at the school. 911 was called so the Police Department and Fire Department were dispatched and responded as the school was being evacuated to an adjacent school, Derby Middle School.  The School Superintendent issued a press release stating that all emergency procedures were followed by the school and no one was injured with school resuming operations later that afternoon.

Cause of Gas Leak: An extermination company (a third party contractor) was drilling into the foundation outside of the school and possibly ruptured the gas line according to media reporting. At present it is believed that the workers reported the gas leak to school officials who activated 911 response while evacuating the school.  

Points for Consideration / Discussion

  • School incidents can occur at any time, when you least expect it, and can be when it is most inconvenient. (During summer school, adult education classes in the evening, during a parent teacher conference, during a school play, band competition, or an indoor or outdoor sporting event.) 
  • Typically one of the school administrators are responsible for the oversight of the cleanliness and maintenance of school facility and should be kept apprised of all work done on, in, or outside of the school. 
    • Those functions have impacts on deliveries (routine or not routine), IT installations, repairs and maintenance, alarm systems and camera repairs or upgrades, snow removal or salting, and landscaping. Those activities can result in people not normally associated with the daily functioning of the school to have access to the school facility or exposure to underage student body which should be a security consideration
    • The School Administrator who is responsible for the facility, should always discuss and maintain situational awareness of work to be done with their Head Custodian or Head Facilities worker at the school. That school administrator should ask basic supervisory questions of any maintenance activities that will take place. IF digging is to take place, everyone should ask "Who notified the utilities company to ensure it is safe to dig, before we dig?" This isn't micromanagement but responsible supervision by query.
  • Typically when the school is operating outside of the standard school schedule (summer, after school hours, nights, and weekends), there is not as many supervisors or as much emphasis placed on safety and security. It is important to not confuse enthusiasm with capability here. Part of any event should be a discussion with all participants on Evacuation, Lock Down, Lock Out, and Shelter in Place. This should be followed by a drill or walk through / talk through rehearsal. 
  • Being aware in an "olfactory" way: Anything that smells out of the ordinary should be reported immediately. A gas leak or an electrical fire are often identified by an unusual smell first. A gas leak by an HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) intake valve could send natural gas or fumes throughout a facility rapidly. 
  • May people feeling sick at once. Or if numerous occupants of the building feel dizzy, light-headed, or have headaches; this needs to be reported immediately. If a school nurse or trainer is present, multiple people complaining of those ailments should trigger your reporting and possible recommendation to evacuate to get fresh air. 
  • Remember, anyone can and should call 911 if there is a security or safety threat. Never assume someone else did. 
  • How would an evacuation go during:
    • Summer School ? Summer Academy?
    • Indoor School Graduation?
    • Parent Teacher Conferences at Night?
    • Friday Night Basketball Game with a packed gym?
    • After school program at your school?  
  • Some Other Helpful Questions for Incidents at Off Peak Hours:
    • During school off hours, who specifically is in charge of everyone else? 
    •  Who is the person in charge of conferring with First Responders when they arrive. 
    • Does the person who is in charge, know they are in charge? Do they know their role during an incident?
    • Does part of their (non school district organizations) Memorandum Of Understanding (in the case of an after school or community program use of the school) require them to notify anyone in the School District Central Office if an incident occurs? 
    • Who (specific persons) do they notify and how (specific contact information during the off hours)?

Could this incident have been prevented? If a gas line was ruptured during indoor or outdoor drilling, then the answer is YES. Conferring with the public utility company or building engineer (indoor work) prior to any digging can identify no-drill areas for safety purposes. 

While the incident in Derby was minor, what if there had been an explosion and injuries? The same type of questions (see above) would be asked during an investigation, and most likely during a cross examination in a criminal trial or civil suit so they are worthy of consideration know.

It is about Preparation, nor Paranoia. Prevention is so much better than a well executed Response. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Schools with Pools: Risks and Hazards...Who Knows What They Are?


Many educational institutions, both public and private, have swimming pools and they are a vital part of the school community. Whether they are used for swim teams, swimming lessons (essential life skill), or other appropriate aquatic activities they are important to the educational process.  There are hazards associated with pools that schools need to assess to first protect LIFE, next protect School Operations (including aquatic activities), and then protect the School Facility (safe use of the pool facility). 

RISK MITIGATION: There are enhanced RISKS associated with a school pool that can be mitigated if you are aware of the Hazards. Those hazards are drowning; shallow water blackout (hyperventilating and then holding breath during long underwater swims); slips, trips, and falls (running around a pool with wet tile); diving into shallow water, electrocution concerns, chemical hazards in particular unique to chlorine (too much chlorine in the water as an irritant or chlorine gas which can be deadly). During World War One, chlorine gas was purposefully used in gas warfare so the unintended creation of chlorine gas in a confined area can have fatal and legal consequences.

RISK MANAGEMENT: Having an All Hazard Risk Assessment for school pool operations is the key to protecting LIFE, SCHOOL OPERATIONS, and SCHOOL FACILITY. Assessing and educating all to the risks, developing a strategy (education, training, equipment) to mitigate those specific risks, and then assessing that mitigation process as a part of your school's preparedness culture is key.  

HAZMAT POOL RELATED INCIDENT: FRUITLAND TOWNSHIP, Michigan:  On July 11, 2014, the release of chlorine gas from the pool area at Michigan Adventure, a water and amusement park sent 28 people — 18 guests and 10 lifeguards — to the hospital. No severe injuries were reported as the exposure appeared to be minimal. Those taken to the hospital suffered respiratory issues, including mild irritation to the nose ears and lungs. Sixty Two other people are being medically evaluated caused dozens of others to require care on Friday afternoon. Those taken to the hospital, Mercy Health Muskegon, were treated and released said the hospital’s chief medical officer.

CAUSE OF HAZARD: Muskegon County Hazmat official told media sources that two pool chemicals were mixed, causing a chlorine gas cloud. Authorities said the chlorine release was under control late Friday afternoon. A Hazmat official said it was too early to speculate on what caused it, and park employees are investigating. In severe cases, those who come into contact with chlorine could develop a lung condition requiring supported ventilation, but he did not believe that would be necessary in this case. However, the effects of chemical exposure can be delayed, and as a precaution, he warned people to watch for wheeziness and shortness of breath, particularly in children.

MASS CASUALTY HAZMAT MUTUAL AID RESPONSE: Hazmat officials said the people who came into contact with the chlorine were quickly moved to a decontamination area in the parking lot, and given the circumstances, the process went very smoothly.  Authorities brought in a FIRE DEPARTMENT HAZMAT DECONTAMINATION large shower to rinse off people who came into contact with the chlorine. Multiple fire trucks, law enforcement officials and ambulances rushed to the scene around 3:30 p.m. A large shower was brought to the parking lot to help people who had come into contact with the chlorine rinse off, according a First Responder from the Whitehall Rescue unit.

The rest of the park remained open Friday afternoon as a Hazmat team went to test chlorine levels in the pool where the release occurred.  A spokesperson for the park said that it will be open for normal operation Saturday. (Note: If the officials aren't sure of the cause of the Chlorine release, why would they open up the pool section of the park...?????  Here is where parents need to think for themselves.)

RECOVERY: There is always the tendency to overlook the Recovery Phase from any incident because so much energy, emotion, and adrenaline goes into the response. Recovery is the key to returning to safe and secure living. Recovery also reinforces that the system and / or institution legitimately cares about what happened and about who was affected by the incident. The direct victims of an incident are not the only ones affected by an incident. Other affected may be: family members of victims, future customers, or students, parents determining will I let my kids go to that amusement park or school trip, etc.

Points for Consideration: 

  • Could this happen at your school's pool? 
  • Some school's use another facility for their aquatic activities does that change your school's responsibility or accountability?
  • Is there a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between school's if the pool is a shared use facility. 
  • What if this was a school trip to a water park, how would your school trip advisers and approved trip chaperons handle this incident? 
  • Other than the parents of the victims, who is establishing a recovery plan and services for this incident?
  • Prevention: Are there any local, state, or federal laws pertaining to safe school pool operation?
  • Does your school board of education know its role in school pool safety?
  • Is there a school pool safety plan?  (Click Link)

It is about Preparation, Not Paranoia...
enjoy your school pool 
but make sure you are doing it safely 
and professionally.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mock Crashes at High Schools Promote Safety

Mock Crash in HS Parking Lot

Mock crashes are typically done by school authorities in conjunction with Law Enforcement, Fire, and EMS to simulate a real car accident. Mock crashes are typically done near the end of the year and / or before the Senior prom. Some consideration may be done to do this in the beginning of the school year instead of at the end. Some other steps taken are:

  • First Responders talk about accident scene experiences.
  • Presentation & Discussion by MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers).
  • Students wearing goggles that simulate visual impairment due to drinking.
  • Students sit in a crash simulator (The Convincer)  which allows them to feel how a crash at 5 mph feels.
Anything that can be done to make students and parents more aware of the frequency and calamity involved in adolescent car crashes due to underage drinking, distracted driving, fatigue, and excessive speed. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Norwalk Public Schools Teachers, Police & Fire Dept Discuss School Safety during Table Top Exercise

     This short video discusses the benefits of our City wide collaboration between Norwalk Public Schools, First Responders, and other city services in responding to a serious school incident on April 10, 2014. 

     Highlighted in the video are Norwalk Fire Chief (and Director of Emergency Management) Denis McCarthy and Deputy Chief David Wrinn discussing the All Hazard approach Norwalk is taking in regards to school preparedness (safety, security, and school climate). The Active Shooter Table Top Exercise focused on the three C's: Communication, Cooperation, and Collaboration. All 19 public schools with their School Incident Response Teams participated as well as Central Office's School Incident Support Team which is a coordinating entity to support the incident school(s) response, coordinate with Norwalk's Emergency Operations Center (EOC), and emplace the Recovery enablers as soon as possible.  
     The Table Top Exercise is an invaluable education and training tool to help clarify for the participants the difference between enthusiasm and capability.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Pot Brownies & Prescription Drugs in a Locker...What is the Big Deal???

What do you want your school known for?

On March 18, three students from New Milford High School were arrested on drug charges and accused of selling marijuana laced brownies at the school of brownies with marijuana baked into them, police said. One of the three had prescription in their locker for sale to others as well.  Superintendent of Schools Jean Ann Paddyfote said three New Milford High School underclassmen were facing expulsion for violating the school's drug and alcohol policy.

Not so funny now, especially if it is your kid or student

See Something, Hear Something, Say Something: The school's resource officer conducted an investigation because school authorities had learned a student was in possession of marijuana brownies and was trying to sell them to other students.   One youth had originally sold the brownies to a second youth, who brought the brownies into the school and sold them to a third youth, who in turn planned to sell them, police said. When the third youth was confronted by school authorities, prescription drugs were found in his locker, which the youth said he also had planned to try to sell to fellow students, police said.
The three male students -- aged 14, 15 and 16 -- are facing criminal charges including illegal possession of a controlled substance, illegal sale of a controlled substance, dispensing a narcotic and conspiracy to commit sale of narcotics.  All three were released into their parents' custody on written promise to appear Tuesday, March 31 in Danbury Juvenile Court.
Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the U.S. and the world, according to Drug Policy Alliance. There are roughly 750,000 people arrested for marijuana each year, the vast majority of them for simple possession. Though possession of marijuana at the age of 18 years and older in small amounts in Connecticut was decriminalized in 2011, intent to distribute for first-time offenders can mean up to 7 years of imprisonment, according to, and violates New Milford High School's drug and alcohol policy.
Commentary:  When one hears a story like this there is a tendency to trivialize the event or even view it in a humorous way. However, these kids were distributing drugs in school to students who were witting or unwitting and one of them had prescription drugs in his school locker to distribute to students. Now consider those drugs going to YOUR CHILD, NIECE or NEPHEW, or GRANDCHILD…doesn’t seem trivial or humorous now. Remember, those kids are someone else’s child, niece or nephew, or grandchild. I am concerned that the adults who consider legalizing marijuana have not considered the impact on our children…
Additionally, those few “pot brownies” will cause those students to miss a week or two of school awaiting their expulsion hearing.  Missing a week or two of school will impact their grades for that marking period, GPA, and class standing. If these kids were on a sports team they will be kicked off of the team. These students will have a drug record in their file from high school and a life-long reputation and stigma that is tainted with drugs. Many parents will tell their kids to not hang out or associate with these kids who were associated with the pot brownies and prescription drugs. Will the parents just look at this as “kids will be kids” or will they realize that my kid now has a problem that is drug related and consider my kid may have a drug problem…or the start of one? How these parents and the school handles this incident can have a life altering impact on their future.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Two Maryland High School Teenage Girls Abuse Autistic Student, One of Their Parents Notifies Police

Two teenage girls in southern Maryland abused and bullied an apparently autistic 16-year-old boy into performing sexual acts and crashing through pond ice in episodes they captured on cellphone video, authorities said Wednesday. The girls, ages 17 and 15, threatened the teen with a knife, kicked him in the groin and dragged him around by his hair according to law enforcement. 

They coerced him into walking on a partially frozen pond and then refused to help him out of the frigid water. Police said the boy got out himself, but the prank could have turned deadly. All three teens attend Chopticon High School in Morganza, MD.

"You're dealing with somebody who doesn't have the mental capacity of you and I," she said. "Somebody like that could go into a kiddie pool and may not be able to get themselves out. That's what's really kind of disturbing to us, among the other allegations in this case. The whole thing's just very disturbing."
She said investigators haven't found any of the video online.

  • The 17-year-old, Lauren A. Bush, of Mechanicsville, MD was charged as an adult Tuesday with first- and second-degree assault, false imprisonment and solicitation for child pornography. She was released on her own recognizance.
  • The 15-year-old was charged as a juvenile with the same offenses and referred to the state Department of Juvenile Services. The sheriff's office didn't release her name.

Police said both girls acknowledged they committed the offenses. They also said the boy's parents told police he is autistic and police described him as having "diminished mental capacity."


Police learned of what happened from a parent of the younger girl who had seen the video on her daughter's phone. The parent showed it to a sheriff's deputy who works in the school. There is no evidence other students joined the bullying. Police said more charges are likely as investigators list offenses for each episode that authorities say occurred from early December to early February.

A Parent Of One Of The Abusers Contacted Police Because It Was The Right Thing 

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Role of Unions in School Preparedness (Safety, Security, & School Climate)

It does take a school community (a village) to raise, 
educate, nurture, and protect a child. 

     Unions, as a part of that community, are a vital component in that process. The school community encompasses the school administration, faculty, staff support, SRO, students; but also includes parents and guardians; first responders (law enforcement, fire services, emergency medical services); neighborhood and local businesses; school district leadership and staff; unions (teachers, custodian, security, food service); city services (emergency management, transportation, health and human services, etc.), and local elected officials. All of these stakeholders (internal and external) are part of the school preparedness network and must work together. 

     If everyone is involved in school preparedness and any adult in a school might be a "first responder" in a school incident; then the unions that represent them must be integrated into the safety, security, and school climate equation. The school custodian at Sandy Hook Elementary School is credited with warning others about the impending threat and saving lives in the process. 

  • The custodian who performs safety checks on machinery and knows the layout of the facility to advise first responders is critical. 
  • The food service worker who hears a discussion or comment that causes them to be concerned for the welfare of a child or a co-worker can prevent a disaster. 
  • The school security or hall monitor who establishes a professional approachable rapport with students and co-workers is invaluable to the prevention and critical response in any school incident. 
  • The teacher who is in the classroom, hallway, and cafeteria with numerous students sometimes before, during, or after school has a powerful role in the safety and security of the school community. 
  • The above representatives and a union building steward should have a representative role in any school preparedness committee that meets regularly in the building and district.

As difficult as it may be to believe in today's hyper-sensitive school preparedness environment, if a school or district doesn't take school preparedness as seriously as it should, then the unions provide a voice to make the school community safer and more secure. 

If there is a concern brought forward by a worker to a union representative it may be the worker's perception or a reality, either way it needs to be addressed for resolution. So that in the area of safety, security, and school climate there is a common understanding of what is taking place. 

The key is professional collaboration vice an adversarial accusatory relationship between the unions and the school administrative leaders. If student learning in a positive school climate within a safe and secure school environment is our collective goal, then it is important to work together.  Both sides should welcome the opportunity to collaborate to improve things for all.  It is not about blaming each other for mistakes or shortcomings, it is about working together to fix them as soon as possible for the safety and security everyone.