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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Emmanuel Umoh
September 18, 2015
A 2013 study of school districts emergency preparedness policies in North Texas showed that the threat of terrorism is a serious concern in public facilities including schools. Terrorism emergency preparedness policies are well-documented as measures to protect students and staff from terrorism threats and vulnerabilities. However, those threats and vulnerabilities are being experienced by many school districts.
The purpose of the study was to explore policy attributes that school administrators and inter-agency coordinators considered important to preventing the threats and vulnerabilities of terrorism incidents. Kingdon’s multiple streams theory formed the theoretical framework for the study. The study evaluated whether Kingdon’s multiple streams theory was predictive of how school district administrators implemented terrorism preparedness policies. The study used a convenience sample of 18 school administrators and inter-agency coordinators responsible for implementing emergency policies.
Literatures regarding emergency preparedness policies by the federal, state and local governments have focused on the recognition of terrorism as a problem, the formulation of policies and standards, the experiences of others and recommendations for emergency preparedness for schools districts. However, interviews with the school districts emergency planners revealed their objectives, processes, accomplishments and failures. Robinson & Eller concluded that problem stream represents the series of conditions requiring public attention, while the policy stream accounts for the series of concrete policy proposals that may address actual or potential problems.
The study showed that both the districts and interagency participants focused on developing comprehensive emergency management plans and developing hazard mitigation actions, disaster management plans and continuity of operation plans as measures to deal with terrorism threats and vulnerability. During the study, participants were asked about their role in emergency preparedness in the school districts and 90 percent stated they had direct involvement in emergency planning and operations.
The administrators described their role as being responsible for developing emergency preparedness plans and ensuring that each campus complied to reflect their schools, facilities and character of the neighborhoods. The coordinators saw their role as coordinating response efforts before, during and after a disaster. All 18 participants indicated that they were responsible for conducting drills and tabletop exercises with the campuses to prepare them for emergencies in the future.
Their responses supported Kingdom’s model because the school districts and inter-agencies are focused on having emergency plans in place before terrorism occurred under any political condition. Robinson & Eller added that policy communities are experts with knowledge and technical skills such as operations personnel, firefighters, police and health care providers, while the political communities are elected officials such as school board members and those around them. The roles played by the administrators and the inter-agencies ensured that campus emergency plans that complied with local, state and federal laws were approved before the beginning of each school year.
Although the school districts are independent entities, they continued to coordinate and train on terror emergencies with other city agencies to ensure that proper and current intelligence information was exchanged on a timely manner. The study revealed that the participant’s role is fostered by inter-agency collaboration, community education and communications to identify and minimize threats and breaches before they happen.
Responses showed how the districts understood policies and the process of developing plans to mitigate or respond to threats and vulnerabilities. Responses to this question revealed lack of fragmentations on the importance of safety as a factor influencing threats and vulnerabilities policies within the policy community. Existence of fragmentations within the policy community would affect the stability of policy implementation problems such as security breaches despite the application of policy initiatives.
Concerning districts readiness, the responses indicated that some of the school districts have sufficient confidence in their understanding and implementation of emergency policies and therefore considered their districts ready for any kind of emergency. The themes that emerged from their responses were either “ready and prepared” or “not fully ready” to deal with all threats and vulnerabilities. Forty-four percent of administrators felt that their districts were “fully ready,” while an equal number considered their districts to be “not fully ready.” A smaller percentage (11 percent to 22 percent) of the administrators and agencies insisted that their school districts were “not ready” to handle growing threats and vulnerabilities. These differences in policy community’s perception were attributed to the volatility of threats which affected the stability of the structural anchors of emergency policies for school districts.
The growing incidents of terrorism demand compliance and continuous improvements with emergency management laws to keep schools safe. This study showed that the school districts used the all-hazards approach successfully to prepare against threats and vulnerabilities of terrorism. North Texas school districts addressed terrorism emergency preparedness through mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery as mandated by the state’s Office of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Education.
Although the school districts significantly improved their emergency management processes, most did not consider themselves ‘fully ready’ because of the fluidity of emergency incidents against public facilities. Interagency communications facilitated preparedness process through increased information and data exchanges between the school districts and other agencies before and during incidents.
Author: Emmanuel Umoh, Ph.D., PMP is a project management consultant. He is a professional fellow at the Center for Health Systems and Design, College of Architecture, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas. He can be reached at [email protected]