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Comprehensive Emergency Planning for Public Schools (I): Introduction

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Yesterday’s "Lead of the Week" was a Request For Information (RFI) issued by the Los Angeles Unified School District for a District-Wide Strategic Security and Safety Plan. With a million students, dispersed in 1200 sites, over 7100 square miles, in a major international city, drugs, gang violence, industrial accidents, armed homicidal/suicidal students, earthquakes and international terrorism are real possibilities. Los Angeles students face multiple threats to life and limb; the district's reaction has been ad hoc and episodic, resulting in a tangle of policies, systems and activities; and resources are almost certainly being wasted at a time when funds are tight and getting tighter.

This is a subject I’ve wanted to write about for a long time, and this project supplies the perfect opportunity. LAUSD is hardly alone, and in this post-911, post-Katrina, post-Columbine Century, emergency planning for public schools will be a growing business.

More resources will be put into a function that is bound to involve large hardware and software contracts - and a good deal of outsourcing, introducing yet another source of competition for public education funding. Each dollar that goes to emergencies won't go to the classroom. While the security function in essential, it is equally important that it be done efficiently, and conceptualized so as to be integrated with teaching and learning rather than as add-on "support."

We can see the beginnings of integration in other areas: The cafeteria is becoming part of schools' strategy for education nutrition. While sometimes controversial, AIDS and sexual harassment education and in-school clinics are becoming part of health education strategies. Student information systems are being employed to identify student and teacher cheating - to say nothing of performance pay. GPS units that can improve routing and tell repair crews where to locate a broken-down school bus can be used to check up on bus drivers. Which raises the other side of this coin - the implications of potentially all-encompassing information for school operations in a democratic society.

I spent the first half of my professional life at the RAND Corporation as a "young Strangelove" in what amounts to emergency planning and crisis management – the prospect of nuclear war and its aftermath. I have some distinct views on the nature of these activities. They start from the simple proposition that public k-12 schools are very different from any other facility secured by government or private contractors, and that the government's responsibility to k-12 students is very different from that of any secured facility to the people within.

Marc Dean Millot is the editor of School Improvement Industry Week and K-12 Leads and Youth Service Markets Report. His firm provides independent information and advisory services to business, government and research organizations in public education.

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