Incident Command System Provides Framework To Build Safer Schools

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by Johnny Ketchem, Interim Superintendent

On Tuesday morning the entire Payson High School/Rim Country Middle School complex, including Payson Center for Success, transportation, maintenance, the warehouse and IT, locked down due to a potential threat. Thankfully, the incident ended with no harm done and none intended.

An observant staff member notified Payson Police Department as to what he saw. Payson PD contacted the schools to implement their lockdown protocol.

Your principals and their emergency preparedness teams have been working very hard this school year to meet the specific requirements of FEMA’s Incident Command System for schools. Emergency preparedness covers a wide variety of large and small incidents and events such as graduations, team rivalries, dances, inclement weather, communicable disease outbreaks and intruders.

Payson Schools’ principals have:

• Completed several levels of FEMA training

• Developed protocols for evacuations and lockdowns

• Communicated expectations to staff and students

• Conducted required lockdown and evacuation drills

• Evaluated the safety and security of each campus

• Pilot-tested a tip line

• Arranged for release and reunification with families should that ever be necessary

• Written mutual aid agreements with local first responders

• Met monthly with the entire administrative team to learn about and share best practices and to update each school’s emergency response plan

Their work and preparation paid off during this incident. Students and teachers did what was expected, treating the incident as the “real thing,”,not knowing whether it was or not. Communications, while not perfect, worked and will be improved.

The Payson Police Department, with Chief Don Engler in command, responded with its well-trained officers. We are proud of our long, strong partnership with the Payson Police Department and thankful for their professionalism.

We are grateful for our school resource officer, a true “first responder,” for the Gila County sheriff’s deputy who heard the call and came, for the staff member that called in what he saw, for the incident commanders (aka school administrators) that managed the incident, for our students’, faculty and staff’s serious commitment to school safety and for our parents and families that patiently waited out an unsettling hour or two.

School safety is a team effort. The Incident Command System gives schools a strong framework upon which to build safer schools. Our partners add expertise and support. We will continue to address, prepare for and respond to safety and security issues at all Payson schools.

No school or district can promise that “it won’t or can’t happen here,” however, awareness, observation, planning, frequent drills, clear communications and a culture of school safety can mitigate the effects of school emergencies as they did on Tuesday.

A well-known Payson staff member signs off his e-mails with “It’s great to be a Longhorn.” It is great to be a Longhorn.

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