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Department of Ed Awards $28.8 Million in Emergency Management Grants

Ninety-eight school districts in 28 states have received two-year federal grants to pay for improvements to their emergency management plans. The United States Department of Education has awarded $28.8 million from its Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) program to help schools address emergency prevention-mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. This amount is nearly $3 million more than was issued last year as part of the same program.

Grant recipients have committed to several requirements: coordinating with local public agencies, including law enforcement and public health; training school staff in emergency management; and providing a method for communicating emergency and reunification procedures to parents. Stipulations are also in place on the funding to have districts prepare for infectious disease outbreaks and to take into consideration their special needs populations.

The money can be spent on efforts involved in coordinating with local emergency responders, conducting drills and exercises, purchasing emergency supplies and equipment, and training staff and students on emergency response procedures.

California schools turned out to be the big winners, with grants making up $8 million, a quarter of the total awarded. Among these, Los Angeles Unified School District, with about 618,000 students, received the largest amount, $710,053. The smallest grant issued nationwide went to Vidor Independent School District in Texas, which received $103,976.

Prince William County Public Schools will be receiving $672,155, the second-largest grant. According to Ron Crowe, the district's administrative coordinator for security services, the Manassas, VA district's funds will go into multiple initiatives, such as creating an interoperable communication network that can be accessed by both the district and first-responders; developing a training and crisis communication program; integrating the National Incident Management System (NIMS) into plans, trainings, and processes; expanding emergency mock drills and simulations; and developing a health hazards plan to addresses biohazards and infectious diseases.

Crowe said the district already has a good security program in place. "We're trying to expand and fill in the edges and improve things we have out there now," he explained. "There's always room for improvement, so we'll try to get some things done that there wouldn't be money for otherwise."

He said the district is especially happy to get more money to bolster its crisis management training and drills with security staff, administrators, and administrative staff. "This is going to help us drill down even further to getting the teachers more aware and involved," he added.

Hillsborough Township Board of Education in New Jersey will be using its $149,990 for several initiatives, including certifying 250 people in staff in CPR and defibrillator training, creating a substitute teacher safety training program, revising emergency plans, doing school safety audits, developing an emergency Web site, and conducting emergency drills.

"This is a wonderful opportunity ... to continue to improve our emergency management training and increase resources for our students and staff in our schools," said Scott Rocco, interim superintendent, in a statement. "Our school district has a long history of successfully working with our local first responders in emergency management and training and this grant allows that partnership to continue and grow." As part of the grant application, the district signed an agreement with local agencies stating that the latter would take an active role in the grant, should it be awarded.

Mooreland Public Schools in Oklahoma will be spending its $108,103 on developing an emergency policies manual, a voice over IP system, "and other items that will make our school system safe," said Superintendent Terry Kellner. The district, which has two schools, will also add access control gear in the form of specialized locks and a keying system. "This is a fantastic grant for our district," Kellner added. It is, he said, "the only large federal grant the district has ever received."

Oregon's Portland Public Schools will be spending $658,206, the third-largest grant issued in this year's funding. "Preparing Portland," the proposal put forth by the district, will pay for efforts to improve emergency plans for both public and private schools in the area, encompassing a staff and student population of about 58,000.

The grant will create a team of participants charged with making sure every school has an emergency management plan; emergency training; programs to provide support for non-English speakers such as text messaging, a hotline, and revised classroom procedures; and checklists for helping disabled students and staff during emergencies. According to a statement from the district, it also plans to hold four forums over the next two years "to engage partners and broaden the scope of preparation and response."

Prince William County's Crowe said his district doesn't know yet when the funds will be available. "In the next week or so we have initial phone calls that we have to sit in on and there are mandatory meetings to go to. But I'm not exactly sure when the 'rubber will hit the road.'"

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.