School emergency program makes strides

Comox Valley schools will  be more prepared to handle an emergency, such as a major earthquake, next school-year than in the past.

The Comox Valley School District began implementation of the Hour-Zero school emergency program this year, and delivered emergency supplies to schools.

“I think we’ve made good progress,” says district principal of health and safety Paul Berry. “Many of our schools had been working for a number of years to get their supplies and protocols and training up to standard, but many schools had done little. So, the purchases this year and the training this year were to get everyone on a level playing field.”

Hour-Zero training was conducted at 14 schools, which included presentations to site staff and Parent Advisory Councils (PACs), outlining what staff roles and responsibilities would be after an incident such as a 7.0-plus magnitude earthquake.

“I take them through a scenario using photographs and data from recent earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan,” says Berry, noting these countries have similar building codes and infrastructure to the Comox Valley.

“Staff needs to be prepared to deal with everything from search and rescue, to triage, to assessing the damage of the building to decide whether or not it can continue to be occupied, or to house and shelter upwards of 1,000 students for a significant period of time, and look after their needs.”

The training “opens their eyes to the reality that they would have to do this, they would be staying at the school, looking after the students.”

The training also includes protocol for other emergency events, such as an active shooter in a school, or school evacuations.

A detailed selection of emergency supplies were delivered to each school this year, including one 450-gallon water tank per site, water filters, tarps, portable toilets, emergency evacuation stretchers, first-aid tents, pry bars, shovels, axes and triage equipment.

Supplies were delivered to the district emergency operations centre, too, and communication equipment was delivered to each school, ensuring the ability for schools to communicate with the operations centre.

Training will continue next school-year at other Valley schools, and large-scale training exercises are planned.

“We hope, probably next May during Emergency Preparedness Week, we would like to exercise both a secondary school and an elementary school in a larger scale scenario, complete with evacuation, and open our district emergency operation centre at the same time,” says Berry.

Canned food delivery to schools will continue in the fall, and Berry notes school PACs will likely take a lead role in ensuring their respective schools are supplied with food. He estimates the district spent about $85,000 this year on the Hour Zero program and purchase of emergency resources. He estimates the cost will be about the same next year, as program implementation and training continues.

“We still have a long way to go,” says Berry. “But … the province, Minister of Education, is only now just beginning to draft documents around emergency preparedness, very similar to what we’ve had for quite a number of years. And, so I think it puts our district well ahead of the curve.”


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