School district keeps watchful eye on student safety
The Anchorage School District keeps a close eye on every school using 3,000 cameras to monitor the 100 schools it oversees.
"We can reach out to every school," Security Tech Specialist Michael Ireland said. "I manage all 3,000 of the camera units and from here I help facilitate any requests from the Anchorage Fire Department and the APD."
The cameras used by ASD Safety and Security Emergency Preparedness team have zoom in capabilities, low light and no light features.
"This team really tries to work with the schools," Ireland said. "We want to give them the best sense of security in the school district as possible."
Along with the cameras, the team organizes monthly and quarterly safety drills with each school.
"What we found is that confidence is a very important piece in emergency management," Senior Director Joe Schmidt said. "Not only knowing what to do but knowing you can make decisions."
The District's ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate ) protocol doesn't tell people what to do, it gives them the training to make educated decisions in times of high stress.
"We have no idea of knowing which door a bad guy may come in," Schmidt said. "We want everyone to know you can make decisions. The name of the game is getting the kids away from danger."
There is also a certain way school principals and teachers talk to their students during dangerous situations.
"The words that we use when training the kids, whether that is grades schoolers, middle schoolers or high schoolers is different," Schmidt said. "We don't say gun or shooter in an elementary environment. We rely on the professionals in the classroom and the principals to figure out which words they are going to use with their kids. They know how to educate and know which words are kids are going to respond best to."
The school district uses words as outlined in books provided by the Red Cross and FEMA.
"For elementary kids we use words and phrases like, stranger danger," Coordinator Stephen Brown said. "Kids are already very familiar with this. It's the same words a police officer would use with a preschooler or kindergartner."
To ensure the school district is doing everything they can to keep the students protected from being afraid, the district sends school psychiatrists and the new pre-K director to ALICE training.
"Anything we can do to ease kids into this training level, we'll do," Brown said. "We'd always like to see evacuate first because you're not in trouble if you're not there."
Depending on the safety drill, they can take place monthly or quarterly.
"An evacuation or fire drill is done monthly," Brown said. "So every school calendar month there is an evacuation drill. That's getting everyone out of the school and to a central location. An ALICE drill is quarterly, the schools don't have to do a full drill but they do need to do parts of the drills and move to a full drill at the end of the school year."
Other drills include a shelter in place, this would include examples like a Freon leak or gas truck rollover. The process involves keeping the students in school for an extended period of time. A stay put drill means a moose or bear is nearby and students need to stay put. The exterior doors of the school are locked and classes resume as normal. Duck Cover Hold is the standard earthquake drill.
"On the 15th of the month, we remind the principals and then the third week of the month we remind the administrators upstairs," Brown said. "We do this to make sure everyone is in compliance."
Another safety feature the school district keeps up on is national disaster preparedness. The district currently has 22 conex placements throughout the district that can serve and help house 1,000 people at each for a total of 22,000 members of the community.
"We'll use those for anything that is long term," Schmidt said. "The supply conex's or trailers are all movable. We can put them on a truck and move them if we need to. Our initial reaction would be the children. Any children that have not reunified with their parents need to be sheltered during a disaster. If the event boils on beyond, then the Red Cross would come in and we would start to take in community members."
Schools in the district with a conex on site, also have a few more features on site than other schools. Besides the conex, which is basically a large metal box of supplies, the designated emergency sites include a septic system, a larger generator than other schools so the building can continue to run with heat. The buildings are also equipped with dual fuel boilers so the building can run without gas if needed for up to 72 hours.
"We work in conjunction with the Municipality of Anchorage and the district," Schmidt said. "The Red Cross would run the shelters. They usually don't like to use schools because they like people to get back to normalcy, back to work, back to school as fast as possible. If a school was needed, we're ready."
Natural disasters involving a blizzard, earthquake, volcano eruption or even high water are all possibilities. Schmidt says its all something Alaskans can and will overcome.
"It's all part of the Alaskan spirit I feel," Schmidt said. "I think Alaskans can get through tough times and we live in a tough environment. I think between four-wheelers and snow machines and airplanes, helicopters and boats and all things Alaskans use, and helping one another, if we need to house 22,000 people or more we can do it. I also feel parents would be pretty motivated to get to their children very quickly."
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