Project Idaho: Working toward safer schools

Lt. Harper started the Valley Wide School Safety committee with the goal of building a uniform model for responding to school threats. (File Photo)

Safety and public officials in Idaho are working together to help improve school safety, whether the money is there or not.

"Our agency is interested in schools in what I was say a 360," said Brian Armes, the Manager of Idaho Office of School Safety and Security.

The Idaho Office of School Safety and Security was created in 2016 to help every school across the state discover problems and make a long term plan to improve.

"We're helping them to be able to overcome the vulnerabilities that our assessment revealed to them," said Armes

Those vulnerabilities involve things like hazards in the surrounding community potential natural disasters a school's structure, communication and procedures and the social emotional climate and support within each school.

"Safety and security is a huge broad topic," Armes said "We truly see it as a multi hazard environment."

He says the goal is to provide and support a pathway so schools can still have a safe environment when the funding isn't there and make more improvements when it is.

Last year Armes' and his office joined a new community based coalition with a similar goal in mind.

"I brought together school district officials, law enforcement, fire, Idaho office of school safety, uh who else emergency management and got us all into a room to start talking about what kind of procedures were being used throughout our jurisdictions,” Meridian Police Lieutenant Shawn Harper said.

Across the state no school or their problems are quite the same.

Lt. Harper started the Valley Wide School Safety committee with the goal of building a uniform model for responding to school threats.

“The good thing with the Idaho standard command for schools which is the program that we’ve put together is it doesn’t cost the schools any money," Harper said. "It’s using law enforcement and fire to educate and train the school staff and students which is great because budgets are already tight throughout the state when it comes to education."

There are four standard command responses:

  1. Evacuation - procedures for removing students and staff from dangerous situations inside a school focused on situational awareness.
  2. Reverse Evacuation - removing them from dangerous situations occurring outside of a school or building.
  3. Hall Check - detecting and protecting students and staff from potential threats while continuing instruction.
  4. Lockdown - based on the idea of move, secure, defend when responding to imminent threats or active violence inside the school.

The training goes beyond active threats like a shooter.

"This is dealing with everything from tornado to wild animals that may end up on some campuses in certain parts of the state, flooding, fires and even lower grade threats that may not be directly impacting the school so this is an all threats all hazards based approach to school safety,” Harper said.

Harper says the command responses are a foundation that can be adjusted for each school.

"Some schools they don’t have the technology in their schools or they don’t have the first responder connection I guess you would say that we’re fortunate to have here in the valley so it still gives them the foundation," Harper said. "But it allows them to adjust it to their emergency operations plans so they can still be used, still be standardized but flexible enough to be used with what they have available to them.”

The Valley Wide School Safety committee is based out of the valley but their work has spread with partners across the state.

The training is completely optional but Harper says this kind of community partnership is crucial in tackling this big of an issue.

“We’re not immune to what’s going on around the country. It could happen here tomorrow," Harper said. "The biggest thing is we want to empower our teachers and our students to take this training and to take it serious which they've been doing for a number of years but we really want them to embrace it and understand that we’re doing everything that we can to make sure that the environment in the school is as safe as possible so they can learn and become successful adults.”

If you’re interested in bringing this to your school contact the Idaho office of school safety and security here.

Lt. Harper says they hope to expand their training capabilities like making a video to show students and staff. If you want to help reach out to him through the Meridian Police Department.

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