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Emergency Preparedness – Frequently Asked Questions

How will my child’s school handle an emergency situation?

All Howard County Public Schools have a multi-hazard emergency plan. The specifics of each plan differ for each school site. The response to each incident will differ, based on the specifics of that particular incident. The flexibility of the plan is key to the success of the response. In general, each plan includes the incident command system; development of evacuation, shelter-in-place, and lockdown procedures; an Incident Command Kit that contains key information and supplies; designation of two or more appropriate evacuation sites; provisions for training personnel and updating the plan; and response actions for specific types of incidents. All school plans are reviewed on a yearly basis.

May I see the plan for my child’s school?

For security reasons, the HCPSS does not release this specific information. However, you are welcome to ask the school administration about this plan. You may also obtain a copy of the template used to construct site-specific plans by contacting Risk Management at 410-313-6739.

What is a lockdown? Modified Lockdown?

An emergency may prevent the safe evacuation of a school and require actions to isolate students and staff from danger, by instituting a school lockdown. In an interior lockdown situation, all students are kept in classrooms or other designated locations that are away from the danger. Staff members are responsible for accounting for students and ensuring that no one leaves the safe area. School personnel will also secure building entrances, ensuring that no unauthorized individuals leave or enter the school. Lockdown procedures may also be used to ensure the safety of students when an accident occurs in the community. If or when it is safe to allow persons to enter the building, parents will be permitted access to the building and their children.

In a modified lockdown, students and staff continue regular school activities within the building but outdoor activities are prohibited.

What is shelter-in-place?

Shelter-in-place is a short-term measure used to temporarily separate people from a hazardous outdoor environment. The alternative would be to evacuate into a hazardous situation, thereby risking harm to all involved. If an incident or act of terrorism contaminates air in the nearby area, everyone will be brought indoors, including those in outside classrooms. School staff will close all windows and doors and shutdown the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system (HVAC). This will create a neutral pressure in the building, meaning that the contaminated air will not be drawn into the building. No one is to enter, or leave the building, in this situation.

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 hours not days. Therefore such incidents will not require schools to stockpile food and water. Should circumstances require staff and students to shelter in place, resources such as the cafeteria and vending machines within each school will be made available. Any event of more significant magnitude would require the school system, along with all citizens, to take direction from FEMA officials.

While parents may be concerned that during a shelter-in-place activity, they may not be able to pick up their children and may be separated from them for long periods of time. That will not happen; if the air outside the school is safe for parents to breathe, it is safe for their children to breathe. School system personnel have developed a plan that uses the best possible method for ensuring the safety of students and staff members in this type of crisis. Remember that it is not the school system’s intention to keep children from parents. HCPSS staff is merely taking the proper action to keep children safe until parents can pick them up.

What will HCPSS do if an act of war, or other emergency situation, occurs while students are in school?

The specific actions taken by HCPSS in any emergency situation, both county-wide and at individual schools, will depend on the specifics of the situation. Any action taken would depend on several factors, including the level of threat and the advice of local, state, and federal agencies. The safety of students and staff members will be the primary concern in any decision.

What actions will be taken for students who are in outside classrooms?

The steps to protect students in outside classrooms are dependent on the incident. In the event of air contamination, students will be brought into the school building.

Why are you stating that parents are not to go to the school in times of emergency, thus keeping children from their parents?

The HCPSS does not intend to keep children from their parents if an emergency occurs during school hours or school activities. However, it is imperative that the school system takes steps to make sure that students and staff are safe inside the school until such time the threat has been reduced. Parents will be informed through the communication channels identified by the school system of the parent-student reunification site location.

What is a parent-student reunification site?

If public safety officials require evacuation of a school, students and staff will walk or be transported (dependent on situation) to a designated parent-student reunification site. Parents will be informed of the
location through the communication channels identified by the school system.

Why can’t I be given the evacuation and parent-student reunification locations?

For security reasons the HCPSS does not release this specific information. In addition, circumstances may arise during an emergency situation that require changes to previously designated locations.

Are schools stockpiling food and water?

The school system will ensure that schools and offices have appropriate resources for a short-term event. Local, state, and federal authorities will be relied upon in a large-scale catastrophic event.

Why isn’t HCPSS storing 3 days of food/water for each child?

In discussing and reviewing information from public safety officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), emergency situations would be localized short-term events and not call for long-term supplies. It has been determined to be unreasonable to expect schools to stockpile supplies at each facility for each person.

May I pick up my child during a local or national emergency?

Parents are allowed to pick up children unless public safety officials have declared a shelter-in-place response or access to the school is otherwise restricted. If the incident is at the school, we ask that you do not go to the school. Wait for instructions regarding parent-student reunification. School staff is prepared to maintain as safe and normal an environment as possible within the school. School is not automatically cancelled in emergency situations. Remember that school may be the safest place for children to be.

Who may pick up my children?

Children will not be released to individuals who are not authorized on the student’s emergency care card or who do not have written parent authorization.

The emergency care form is completed by parents and guardians at the start of each school year. Parents and guardians are encouraged to update the emergency care card as needed throughout the school year. Include on the form the name and address of parents’ employers.

Friends and neighbors may sign a child, or children, out with written permission from a parent or parents. Parents must give permission in writing for the sign out and pickup. Schools will ask for identification when the child is released to anyone mentioned in the permission note.

What about my child’s medication?

Schools will accept and store additional medication for students if parents provide the medication in compliance with the school system’s Health Services Medication Procedure. Parents are asked to contact their school’s nurse or health assistant prior to taking any additional medications to the school.

Are students allowed to have cell phones at school?

Students are allowed to have cell phones in school and on school grounds but they are to be turned off during the school day.

May I contact my child?

Parents are asked to refrain from calling the school in emergency situations to allow phone lines to remain accessible for school staff addressing the specific incident.

Parents will be kept informed via through local media, the school system’s Cable Channel 72 and the school system’s website.

How will my children know what to do in the event of a terrorist attack?

Inform your children that their teacher will provide them with appropriate instructions if a crisis occurs while they are in school.

Parents are also encouraged to prepare a family disaster plan and practice it, so that all family members will remember what to do if a disaster does occur. Everyone in the household, including children, should play a part in the family’s response and recovery efforts. Teach your children how to recognize danger signals. Make sure your children know what smoke detectors and fire alarms sound like.

Will children be allowed to view events via live television or radio reports?

In the event of a terrorist attack, or other incident, teachers will be informed as to the appropriate actions to take. Receiving live media coverage in the classroom about an attack or crisis will be decided by the school administration. Appropriate measures will be taken based on the age of the students.

How are field trips handled?

The impact of any critical situation on field trips, both system-wide and at individual schools will depend on the specifics of the situation. If the situation warrants, all field trips will be canceled. Cancellations could also include travel to academies, community programs, and other events. There may be circumstances that require the cancellation of field trips to certain areas. If a field trip is under way and must be recalled, buses would be directed to return to the school or a designated safe area. Parents are reminded that the HCPSS retains the right to cancel any field trip for safety reasons and is not responsible for any financial commitments parents may have made.

What if my child is riding a school bus at the time of an incident?

The severity and nature of the incident will determine what school buses are able to do. In the event of a severe incident affecting all or part of Howard County, traffic will be controlled by and bus drivers will comply with state and local police officials. School bus operations outside the area affected will operate as scheduled. If at all possible, school bus drivers will attempt to complete the trip currently in progress and then proceed to their next assigned school to await further direction from school system personnel.

May I be a parent volunteer at my child’s school in the event of an emergency?

Experience has shown, in the World Trade Center and Columbine incidents, that even when well-trained individuals (police, fire, etc.) volunteer it can add to the confusion surrounding the emergency, particularly if the responsibilities/tasks are not defined. Each school has been provided a volunteer information checklist. It is the administrator’s responsibility to determine the need and circumstances in which volunteers would be needed. In addition, volunteers must be informed/trained on tasks and responsibilities beforehand, and not simply appear at the school offering assistance.