Emergency Preparedness

Advance preparation and planning can minimize the risks inherent in any emergency situation. The HCPSS has worked closely with the Howard County Police Department, Howard County Fire and Rescue, and the Community Emergency Response Network (CERN) to develop coordinated emergency response procedures.

In times of emergency when a system-level crisis response is required, an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is activated at the Department of Education, located on Clarksville Pike in Ellicott City. The Chief Facilities Officer assumes the role of incident commander and coordinates the system response through various central administrators who have been trained to assume specific roles in times of emergency. The school system has conducted multiple tabletop and onsite emergency response drills with personnel from Fire and Rescue and the Police Department to review and improve the system’s emergency response procedures.

Frequently Asked Questions

Emergency Procedure Form

At the beginning of the school year, parents must complete/update their child’s emergency procedure information on Aspen, the school system’s online student information system. Parents who do not have Internet access may request a hard copy of the form from their child’s school. The purpose of the form is to identify persons to be contacted when parents/guardians are unable to be reached in case of an emergency regarding the student. It is imperative that this form be completed in a timely manner.

Local School Emergency Response Plans

Each Howard County public school has developed a School Emergency Response Plan. The plan is updated annually and reviewed with all building staff. It includes school site information, staff responsibilities in time of emergency, the type of training staff will receive and when training will occur, and annual plans for 16 drills.

The plan also defines emergency response operations such as potential command post locations, communications plans, the teacher “buddy” system, student release procedures, general emergency actions, and hazard-specific procedures.

Attached to the emergency plan are site maps, which identify assembly areas, traffic flow information, request and release gates, outside and inside command posts, loading areas, utilities controls and potential medical station areas. Also included are any prearranged agreements with adjacent businesses or facilities for the provision of emergency shelter.

Emergency Incident Kits

Emergency Incident Kits have been provided to each school. The kit, which is portable and can be replenished easily, includes such items as first aid supplies, emergency blankets, barrier caution tape, duct tape, megaphones, orange high-visibility vests, and an AM/FM radio and batteries. Schools are responsible for adding items to the kit such as school floor plans, a staff roster, student emergency procedures cards, and area maps. Additionally, each school has been issued a weather alert radio.

Protective Actions

Closing Schools

  • Students do not attend schools.
  • All school-sponsored activities are canceled.
  • All after-school and evening activities, both school and non-school, scheduled in school facilities are canceled.

Late Start/Early Dismissal

  • Students report later than usual or are dismissed before the established dismissal time.
  • When schools dismiss early for emergency situations, all school-sponsored activities are canceled.
  • When schools dismiss early for emergency situations, after-school and evening activities, both school and non-school, scheduled in school facilities are canceled.

Lockdown

  • An announcement is made by runner or over the public address system: “Your attention please. Lockdown (pause). Lockdown (pause). Lockdown.”
  • If it is safe to do so, all students and staff are moved into the building or relocatable classroom immediately.
  • Students and staff in relocatable classrooms remain in place and follow the same procedures as those inside the main building unless the school incident commander determines another response is warranted.
  • All interior and exterior doors are locked. No one is to enter or leave the building.
  • If it is safe to do so, blinds and shades are drawn. If the room is without window coverings, lights are turned off.
  • If the situation warrants, students and staff sit or lie on the floor.
  • All students and staff are accounted for.
  • Staff and students are to remain in lockdown until emergency responders (police/fire and rescue personnel) or the school incident commander gives the “all clear” notice.

This action is considered appropriate for, but not limited to, situations that involve extreme violence and/or gunfire and that immediately and directly affect the school site.

Modified Lockdown

  • An announcement is made by runner or over the public address system: “Your attention please. Modified lockdown (pause). Modified lockdown (pause). Modified lockdown.” If the situation allows, an announcement regarding the nature of the emergency is made over the public address system.
  • All students and staff are accounted for.
  • Outdoor activities (recess, physical education, etc.) cease immediately and do not resume until further notice.
  • All exterior doors are locked and main doors are monitored with access restricted. Identification is required for anyone entering.
  • If the situation warrants, blinds and shades are drawn or if the room is without window coverings, lights are turned off.
  • A “Modified Lockdown” sign is placed on the outside of the main door.
  • Normal activity continues within the building.
  • Students and staff in relocatable classrooms remain in place and follow the same procedures as those inside the main building unless the school incident commander determines another response is warranted. Students must be escorted to activities inside the main building by at least one adult.
  • School remains in modified lockdown until notice to resume normal routine is given by central or school command.

This action is considered an appropriate response to violence, criminal activity, or any other situation that has the potential to affect the school site.

Shelter in Place

  • An announcement is made by runner or over the public address system: “Your attention please. Shelter in place (pause). Shelter in place (pause). Shelter in place.” If the situation allows, an announcement regarding the nature of the emergency is made over the public address system.
  • All staff and students report to assigned classrooms as quickly as possible.
  • Students and staff in relocatable classrooms move immediately into the main building.
  • Doors and windows are shut immediately.
  • All students and staff are accounted for.
  • If incident warrants, tape is placed around doors, windows, and vents; and wet towels are placed at the bottom of doors.
  • The HVAC system is shut off.
  • A “Sheltering-in-Place” sign is placed on the outside of the main door.
  • Students and staff stand by until given directions by school command or emergency responders (police/fire and rescue personnel).

This action is considered appropriate for situations such as hazardous materials releases, nearby fires, and bioterrorism. Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and local public safety officials indicate that incidents requiring communities to “shelter in place” are viewed as short-term, measured in terms of hours, not days.

Evacuation (on site and off site)

  • A fire alarm or horn signal is sounded. If the situation allows, an announcement regarding the nature of the emergency is made over the public address system.
  • During an on-site evacuation, students and staff exit the building via the closest safe exit and assemble in pre-determined locations. The same procedure is used for off-site evacuation except that staff and students are transported or walk to a pre-determined off-site location.
  • All students and staff are accounted for.
  • Students and staff remain in the evacuation area and await instructions from school command.

This action is considered appropriate for, but is not limited to, situations such as floods, fires, hazardous materials incidents, or other situations that may render the school site unsafe.

Emergency Communications

  • Do not drive to the school unless directed to do so.
  • Do not call the school.
  • Tune to news media for emergency instructions.

In times of emergency, information about the status of schools is communicated through a variety of media. The school system requests that parents do not call their child’s school or the central office in times of emergency as it is important to keep phone lines free for emergency communications. Circumstances may prevent parents from picking up their children or may require that children be picked up at a location other than the school.

The safety of children and staff is our first priority. Our second priority is the reunification of parents with their children.

Emergency School Closings

If it is necessary for the superintendent to close or delay the start of schools due to inclement weather or other emergencies, parents may obtain information from the sources listed above.

If Howard County public schools open one or two hours late, there is no halfday prekindergarten/RECC. If schools are closed, or closed early due to weather conditions, all after-school and evening activities, both school and non-school, scheduled in school facilities are canceled.

On weekends and holidays, if the Howard County Snow Emergency Plan is in effect by 7 a.m., activities already in progress may be completed but any activity scheduled to begin after that time is canceled.

During times of emergency or adverse weather conditions, we request that you do not call your child’s school or the central office as it is important to keep phone lines free for emergency calls.

After The Storm – Dealing With Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy has had a significant impact on many Howard County students, families and staff members. Below are resources you may find helpful to you and your children as you deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Read memorandum (PDF) regarding HCPSS Response to Hurricane Sandy.

Articles For Adults

Links For Adults & Children

Resources For Children