Homeland Security Funds Urged for Colorado School Safety

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School Safety Partners is urging Colorado decision-makers to coordinate and leverage Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other Federal funding in support of a new law requiring Colorado schools to implement the National Incident Management System (NIMS) to protect students and staff during life-threatening emergencies.

Emergency Communications System for Schools Proposed

School Safety Partners is urging Colorado decision-makers to coordinate and leverage Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other Federal funding in support of a new law requiring Colorado schools to implement the National Incident Management System (NIMS) to protect students and staff during life-threatening emergencies.

The group has set up a fund to provide financing to school districts for emergency response equipment and technology. For its flagship project, School Safety Partners estimates that it will cost $30 million to install a statewide emergency communications system that would link responders with school personnel by two-way radio. The group proposes that the fund cover this cost now while Colorado pursues, over time, funding from DHS, Department of Education, Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Commerce, the Federal Communications Commission, the Army, and other sources.

At the recommendation of School Safety Partners and the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance Center, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools (OSDFS) released in December revised guidelines for schools to pursue Federal preparedness funding opportunities with local emergency management agencies and authorities such as law enforcement.

The guidelines state that schools should seek funding for interoperability training with their local and regional multi-disciplinary partners, and should reach out to community partners who may already be receiving funds. At the local and regional levels, partners could include local emergency management agencies and Citizen Corps groups.

The new guidelines note that preparedness funding can often be accessed through collaborative efforts within the partnerships developed by schools to implement NIMS. However, because these activities enhance the Unified Command aspect of NIMS, funding support efforts should be led by the State Department of Education and the State Emergency Management or Homeland Security Authority.

To help accelerate the adoption of NIMS by Colorado school districts, School Safety Partners introduced last year a free online project management system that schools can use to manage 15 NIMS implementation activities now required by OSDFS.

Schools are encouraged to be innovative. Preparedness funding can be applied to all four phases of school emergency management: prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. Monies can help cover the costs of training, safety plan design, and equipment or technology.

In its guidelines, OSDFS explains that local emergency planning councils and committees were established by the Federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act, as Title III of the Superfund Amendments & Reauthorization Act of 1986. Originally, the councils' aim was to understand chemical hazards in the community, develop emergency plans in case of an accidental release, and look for ways to prevent chemical accidents.

In many communities, the planning committees and councils have evolved to use an all-hazards approach that addresses a broad array of emergency management issues on a community-wide level. Some schools have been successful members of their local emergency planning councils and committees. This represents another potential avenue for sharing information about Federal preparedness funds.

In addition, Schools located within designated Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) zones could inquire about Protective Security Advisors (PSA) who are placed in field offices around the country, representing DHS in local communities and emergency operations centers. PSAs serve as liaisons between DHS, the private sector and Federal, state, local, and tribal entities. Schools can reach out to the PSA in their region to request assistance.

School Safety Partners is an all-volunteer organization that assists in drafting and implementing model school safety legislation, and promoting long-term school safety funding through public-private partnerships. Its online School Safety Portal organizes links to thousands of emergency management resources for schools worldwide.

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John Simmons
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