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Shootings bring mourning, preparedness, solidarity

December 17, 2012
Sunnyside Environmental School drew 80 people to a Hands around Our Schools vigil Dec. 17 to show community solidarity in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting.
Sunnyside Environmental School drew 80 people to a Hands around Our Schools vigil Dec. 17 to show community solidarity in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting.
The tragedies at Clackamas Town Center Mall and Sandy Hook Elementary sent emotional shockwaves through the PPS community - from parents and students to teachers and leaders - and quickly turned attention to emergency preparedness.

In her statement to schools Dec. 14, Superintendent Carole Smith said:

"Our hearts go out to the victims and families of the terrible incident at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. Student and staff safety is a priority every day for us. Incidents like this remind us how important it has been for all of PPS’ principals and teachers to have trained for emergencies of all kinds and to continue to regularly practice their emergency team response with students."

Featured in PPS Pulse PPS acts to insure student safety
Parents and community members are asking what steps Portland Public Schools has taken to prepare schools to address emergencies.

Over the past two years, PPS has developed systematic, school-based emergency preparedness measures to respond to everything from police action in a school’s neighborhood to a shooter in the school to earthquake and fire safety. A federal grant has allowed PPS to put in place safety plans, tools and training programs that have strengthened every school’s emergency response abilities.

Steps include:

  • Creating detailed protocols for emergency response contained in a flipchart in each classroom.
  • Collaborating with each school to develop a site-specific emergency response plan.
  • Installing phones in classrooms that double as an emergency address system and creating redundancy through verbal commands, runners and phone trees to ensure accurate and effective communication.
  • Providing in-depth training to schools on how to respond to threats and a train-the-trainer program to spread expertise.
  • Providing emergency baseline drills as well as follow-up drills and debriefings at each school.
  • Training principals as incident commanders and, as a district, becoming compliant with National Incident Management System (NIMS) requirements.
  • Creating a Pandemic Influenza Plan that meets county and state requirements.
  • Providing Go-Kits and Crisis-in-a-Box kits to schools and identifying and mapping utility shut-off information for schools and first responders.
  • Training more than 100 high school students in CPR/First Aid and the use of a defibrillator.
  • Identifying primary and secondary evacuation sites for each school.
  • Improving background screening for volunteers and instituting volunteer and visitor identification badges and protocols for signing in when entering a school.
  • Developing systems for accounting for students, staff and visitors and implementing a parent reunification plan.
  • Actively participating in city, county, and state emergency response planning.

View details on the PPS Emergency Management website.

“We have worked hard to take a multi-faceted approach to student and staff safety, using national best practices and federally approved protocols including the power of repeated drills to practice our response,” said George Weatheroy, PPS director of Security Services. “We grieve for the families from Clackamas and Sandy Hook and we are turning that grief into action by looking now at how to build on what we already have in place.”

What can parents do?
Weatheroy, who as a PPS school police officer in the 1990s developed the campus monitor program and later became a Portland Police Bureau sergeant supervising the police bureau’s school resource officers, emphasizes the crucial role that parents and staff play in school safety:

  • Always sign in and out of a school and pick up and wear an identification badge when visiting or volunteering.
  • If you see people in a school without a badge, ask if you can direct them to the office to sign in.
  • Report suspicious behavior to the school office and encourage children to do the same.
  • Do not prop open school doors.
  • Make sure the school has up to date contact information for use in an emergency. (View Parents’ Guide to Emergency Preparedness, including reunification procedures)

“We will always have vulnerabilities, but we can reduce our vulnerability through vigilance,” Weatheroy said. “By saying, ‘Hello! Welcome to our school. Can I direct you to the office to sign in?’ we are being both welcoming and vigilant school communities.”

Community pulls together
Parents and teachers are already showing their leadership. 

Grant High School counselor Madeline Kokes organized a candlelight vigil at Laurelhurst School to end gun violence Dec. 15. And parents, students, teachers and neighbors joined the national movement Hands around Our Schools, holding hands around Sunnyside Environmental School and Alameda Elementary School Dec. 17 in a show of solidarity with Sandy Hook and a demonstration of the strength of school communities.

Courtney Lobo, a Sunnyside parent who organized the event at her school, shared her facebook post with PPS Pulse:

“The clouds parted, people strolled up… Within minutes, candles were lit… our circle grew. The music of Johnny Keener and Mo Phillips played... I looked around and saw babies, teachers, parents, students, siblings, neighbors, people who were just riding by on their bikes who decided to see what was up.

We came together, in the wake of great tragedy, of unfathomable sadness… we held hands. We sent healing thoughts... We each met someone we didn't know before… We listened to a beautiful poem by Kim Stafford, sang John Lennon's 'Imagine,' and stomped in time (to) 'We're not gonna take it, anymore!' …

In the end, we were about 80 strong… and I walked away from the circle feeling hopeful. Life is good. People are good. Now let's get to work. Please stay connected.”

Resources for parents and schools
On the PPS Emergency Management page under "Parent/Staff Resources" are links to U.S. Department of Education guidance to families and schools:

  • Resources for families following traumatic events including how to talk with your children.
  • Resources for schools to prepare for and recover from crisis.

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