Jessamine County Schools

Safety Information Series

Part 2 of 6

Safety Drills and Simulations

We have all heard that “practice makes perfect” and that “those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”   In relation to preparation for emergency events, those adages demonstrate the importance of safety drills and simulations.  These drills aren’t stand-alone events in our schools, they are a part of our overall preparedness plan to safeguard our students and staff.  Drills are paramount to emergency preparation.  Simulations of real events not only give students and staff the opportunity to practice their response to a threat while in a safe environment, they also help us to define areas that need improvement.   Drills provide the opportunity to test equipment function, identify potential gaps in communication, and determine if participants have the knowledge necessary to keep themselves safe in an emergency.  Drills also test our ability to put what is on paper into action and determine if our plan is appropriate and feasible.  We strive to improve with each and every drill because it gives us the opportunity to fix any challenges before an actual incident might arise.  

Each of our schools has a Safety Committee that monitors the implementation of the school’s safety plan, including conducting drills.  These committees submit monthly progress reports on school inspections and drill performance.   Our district-level safety coordinator also conducts monthly inspections of school operations as related to safety, utilizing a district-standardized inspection report.  This data provides beneficial feedback and allows us to fine-tune and improve our safety plans and performance.  

You might not be aware of the extent of the research and planning that has gone into the development of JCS safety procedures.  If you’re around my age, you might remember the days of your principal activating the fire alarm while everyone was conveniently located in an assigned classroom and there was an expectation that students and staff exit the building through the nearest door in an orderly fashion.   Drills of the past rarely allowed for multiple variables or unexpected situations, and for the most part, practiced for the most likely event.  

School safety has drastically changed, not only over the past 30 years, but even in the last five years, and our procedures have changed to keep pace.  In order to ensure that our district is following best practice, our safety drill protocols have been developed only after extensive research, numerous safety and security trainings, and multiple consultations with the Kentucky Center for Safe Schools, school administrators, local law enforcement, and emergency responders.   The plan has been revised as needed based on these professional recommendations and we have completed a series of five trainings about the plan with administrative staff from each school and members of each school’s Safety Committee.    In addition, safety and security has remained an agenda item at our regularly scheduled assistant principals’ meetings.  

Our district uses multiple types of practice exercises to prepare for a real event.  Discussion-based activities including workshops and tabletop exercises are used to assess how personnel choose to respond to an incident that is presented to them as a scenario requiring their action.  These types of excercises also help those involved to understand their roles and responsibilities during an event.  JCS principals participate in mock tabletop exercises, at times led by local law enforcement, on how to respond to an intruder in our schools.   This is a great opportunity to discuss the multiple factors that can determine the response to an emergency situation, including whether students should evacuate or remain in place.    

All of our schools complete a minimum of 18 drills throughout the year, including monthly fire drills and two earthquake and tornado drills each annually.  All of our students and staff participate in at least two lockdown drills each year.  We are now in the process of adding additional lockdown drills at all schools to practice this type of response more frequently.   We have also added radios at each school location to improve communication and support the coordination of drills.

We will be intentionally adding drills with more unique situations that might entail multiple variables, including blocking off pathways and exits, in order to provide more practice for responding to unforeseen circumstances, such as a fire that has cut off a main exit point.  Drills will also take place more often in a less controlled environment, including with students in cafeterias, auditoriums, hallways and at recess.   As the nature of emergency events is unpredictable, it is important that we mimic the potential for erratic circumstances in our drills.  

Our district partners with local law enforcement and other emergency responders to practice larger-scale exercises and training simulations.  We have conducted four intruder response trainings in the last five years and we will offer another training for administration, front office staff and other personnel this summer.   These trainings, as well as our drills, help to test our specific response procedures to threats, as well as practice the coordination with those in our community responding to the event.  Following a joint exercise with local law enforcement, we debrief and receive feedback on our performance and suggestions for improvement.  

Our safety procedures not only address what to do during an emergency event, but also plan for what will happen after the event. Internal and external communication is key to ensuring that students are accounted for and to ensure that families and our community are able to get timely and accurate information and instructions.  We held our first reunification drill last year and are conducting two more this year to validate that there is an appropriate plan to unite students with their families as safely and as quickly as possible.

I hope that this overview of our operations concerning drills and simulations has given you some insight as to how we utilize this practice to ensure the safety of our students and staff.    

If you have recommendations for future actions to ensure the safety of our students, staff and visitors, please share them at this link.