Share This:

Tribal schools part of country-wide emergency response program

Julie Severn

4/11/2002 12:00:00 AM

Creating a partnership for maximum school safety has local community members implementing an emergency response program on the Isabella Reservation.

The Building Emergency Response Team (BERT) is an incident command training program that provides guidelines to ensure optimum protection of students and staff in any given emergency situation.

Local BERT member Torry Gagne said every Isabella County school, including the Saginaw Chippewa Academy and Aabizikaawin Alternative and Adult Education, is adopting the program into their school safety policy.

"Even private schools are applying these techniques," said Gagne. "We want to achieve a uniform set of procedures so even though each school has its own BERT team, where substitutes can fill in and still know what's going on."

According to Gagne, BERT training was administered to the Tribal Police Department to ensure a consistent set of procedures is followed.

"Ultimately we want to create a safe environment for the students and staff, and to be prepared for any type of situation," he added. "Our goal is to be prepared for pre-emergency and post-emergency circumstances. This program covers everything from natural disaster, to shootings, to gas leaks."

The local team has had two meetings, according to Gagne. The Tribal schools practiced lockdown procedures during the recent triple homicide at the Isabella County Courthouse when police were still looking for the suspect.

"A lockdown occurs whenever we feel our students' or staffs' safety is in jeopardy," explained Gagne. "This may be from a drive by shooting, someone outside shooting at the school, an escaped prisoner in the area, an armed intruder in the school, or as in this case, when a crime occurs in the vicinity of the school."

During a lockdown no one is allowed to enter or leave the school until the team determines there is no element of danger. All doors and windows are secured around the buildings perimeter. An inside lockdown consists of each classroom door being locked and closed and shades pulled.

"We have plans for what the students should do if they are at lunch, in the bathroom or anywhere outside of their classroom when a lockdown occurs," he also said. "Classes also go to the Tribal Operations building for gym class. We take this all into consideration."

Gagne said the students and staff did not know the circumstances surrounding the trial lockdown on March 5, but BERT members decided it would be a good opportunity to test the team.

"We are still in the learning stages," added Gagne. "The next few months will be critical, but overall things went well. We learned how important it is to be in touch with other departments so we know what's happening outside of the school."

There are seven main objectives for the BERT with student and staff safety a main priority. The team is currently working to establish a predetermined plan of action for every possible situation. They are also identifying trained emergency responders.

Gagne said the team is equipped with a "GO-box," which contains cell phones, walkie talkies, and information on students and staff. Each classroom has also been supplied with a first aid kit.

"Having this program in place will reduce confusion and uncertainty in the early stages of an emergency and provide specific guidelines to be performed quickly and effectively," he said.

Teacher and BERT Operations Chief Sandi Stevens, said the best way parents can assist in the event of an emergency is to listen to the radio and to adhere to school safety policies.

"Parents shouldn't all come to the school during a lockdown," she explained. "This could just cause further chaos. Students will still have to wait to be reunited with their parents until it's safe. Parents trust us with their kids on a daily basis, please trust us to do our best during an emergency."

A parents information night is currently being planned. Stevens is urging parents to ask questions if anything is unclear and also stressed the importance of talking to their children so students have a precise understanding of working procedures.

"This is the best thing that's happened this year," added Stevens. "Our utmost importance has always been the children. This program is helping the staff to better serve the students with our main focus on the kids."