Last summer, I was involved in two meetings that encouraged us, as a district, to review some of our emergency procedures. Although our procedures are continually reviewed and updated as needed, we have had some specific discussion about elements of our emergency processes. I would like to take some time to share information about our discussions.
In June, I attended a meeting at Resource Training and Solutions in Sartell. The session was a presentation by Gary Ganje of the St. Cloud School District and Lt. James Steve of the St. Cloud Police Department.
The two St. Cloud leaders shared a presentation about emergency planning and procedures that schools and governments want to be sure they have in place. The presentation started with statistical information about issues of violence or emergency situations across the nation and in the region. The background information set the tone for the need to have emergency plans in place.
Lt. Steve and Director Ganje shared details about the plans that the St. Cloud school district has in place. There were some very interesting elements to the presentation which encouraged me to bring items back to our district. Even though we have good plans, we can always look at processes in other districts and learn from those plans.
As the presentation continued, both leaders shared information about community based conversations that occur in the St. Cloud area. In addition to looking at the school setting, many of the ideas have been transferred into the community. Community leaders have become part of monthly conversations in St. Cloud and some elements of the school district plan have become part of broader community emergency response plans.
Gary and Jim shared how the conversations have impacted emergency plans at the St. Cloud Hospital, several large businesses in the community, and broader community planning. The conversations have encouraged common language used across the settings, common expectations for emergency “bags” and plans, and information that is consistent regardless of settings.
The meeting at Resource Training and Solutions encouraged me to bring some ideas back to the district. Although we have a good plan, it can always be improved.
One of the themes was to use contemporary, common language. An example, discussed in St. Cloud, was the various terms for a lockdown. In ROCORI, we had two terms—a lockdown and a soft lockdown. The term lockdown is pretty clear and easy to understand—everything at a site is locked down. All students and staff stay in place; no one enters or leaves the building; movement inside the building is controlled and restricted.
Soft lockdown, however, has caused some confusion for people. Essentially, in our language, a soft lockdown meant that the outside of the building was locked and movement into or out of the building was restricted. Inside the building, however, most activities took place as normal—moving between classes, normal classroom activities, and so forth.
Because the language was somewhat confusing, St. Cloud used lockdown much as we did, but applied the word “containment” as the term for our “soft lockdown.” This allowed for much more clear use within the schools—and in the community. Not only is the term used in the St. Cloud schools, but it is the same term used in the hospital, the major businesses, and others who have participated in the community approach.
As we walked through the training session in June, Gary Ganje and Officer Steve noted that the Department of Homeland Security encourages the use of the phrase “shelter in place” for the containment or soft lockdown situation. With the encouragement to use the broader level terms, we adjusted our language, this fall, to avoid the confusion and use the Homeland Security phrase. In ROCORI, we now have situations of lockdown (very restricted movement) and shelter in place (restricting movement into/out of the building but more normal activities inside).
In other examples, we were challenged to develop an emergency “crash bag”—a duffle bag with an assortment of items necessary in an emergency setting including the plans, maps, keys, and other items needed to respond. We had emergency packets, but the crash bag was definitely an idea that improved upon our approach. We were encouraged to plan for command centers, establish a “hotline” phone to connect with county resources, examine where we place identification room numbers inside and outside the building, and a few other adjustments.
The presentation was very valuable. It encouraged us to look at our plans and bring in ideas to strengthen what we do.
At the same time as I was hearing the St. Cloud community presentation, representatives from Coldspring were hearing similar conversations within the broader St. Cloud community. Gary Theisen from Coldspring connected with me to ask about having a Cold Spring area conversation much like that of St. Cloud.
In early August, a Cold Spring community meeting was conducted. Several community businesses, law enforcement officials, county representatives, and others were invited to a meeting at Coldspring. Gary Ganje and Officer Steve were also present to share their experience. The idea was to begin a process to focus on emergency responses—in particular situations of workplace violence.
The group felt that it would be appropriate to gather a larger group of leaders to have conversations about emergency responses and to encourage broader community alignment of thoughts, language and ideas.
Over the course of the fall, Gary Theisen has led conversations at a series of meetings. We started by looking at examples within the school district plans, but quickly moved into discussions about processes that might be used and encouraged in our local businesses. The meetings, which are still underway, have been working on developing core ideas, themes, language and general expectations or procedures.
As we work out common ideas, the community group will be sharing its work and encouraging others to use the information. Members of the community are still welcome to be part of the conversations and the process of developing common emergency response procedures. Although each business is unique and has its own needs, we have agreed that there can be some common elements, a common template for emergency planning, and common language to use so that everyone is clear on essential issues.
It is an exciting—and meaningful—conversation for our communities!