NEW PALESTINE – District Emergency Management Directors visited New Palestine High School this week to ensure that the building’s renovations take disaster preparedness into account.
Misty Moore, Hancock County Executive Director of Homeland Security, and Deputy Principal Joe Fitzgerald toured the school and spoke with officials. Discuss how officials will deal with emergencies at the school when the renovation is complete.
“New Pal High School has undergone and is still undergoing many renovations, which makes it imperative for us to help them reassess their safe zones at different times in the process,” Moore said.
The severe tornadoes that hit western Kentucky in December were a reminder that weather disasters can happen at any time.
“We always want schools’ preparedness and response plans to be updated,” Moore said.
Myles Herkamp, director of school safety at South Hancock Schools, and Amy Dawson, co-director of the NPHS, showed Moore and Fitzgerald the safety procedures they operate during renovations as well as their plans when the renovation is complete.
Wes Anderson, the district’s director of communications, said it’s important to keep emergency management officials informed of plans so they can advise on improving safety.
“We need to make sure we have proven safety measures in place,” Anderson said.
Anderson said that making sure things are safe is not as simple as it seems. He noted that it requires preparation and knowledge of where students and staff are and where they need to go during disasters.
“These are all things we have to think about as this renovation project continues,” Anderson said. “We want their wisdom and their insight, and this is something that is ongoing because we want to make sure we’re doing things right.”
Anderson said safety measures are a top priority with district officials. Builders understand that, too. When providing a design and during the construction process for things like a school, creating safe havens for students and teachers during weather and other types of emergencies goes into planning. These are things the average person might not think of, but safety officials do.
Moore noted that officials from the county’s Department of Homeland Security — formerly the Hancock County Emergency Department — visit all county schools at least once a year to make sure officials are prepared in the event of a disaster.
“We partner with schools in the county each year to review these areas with them, obtain expert advice from the National Weather Service when necessary, and also to monitor semi-annual drills to ensure plans are working properly and effectively,” Moore said.
Moore understands that the safety of staff and students at all schools in the district is important, and she said exercises to make sure their response goes as planned is very important.
“The main message for schools is to follow through on the contingency plans that are in place,” Moore said.
They encourage officials to own weather radios, to receive and follow up on county emergency alerts, as well as weather service and local media alerts.
“This ensures there is an excess of severe weather notification in their area,” Moore said. “We have tornado sirens in their areas, but these are for outdoor folks, so they can’t be the only source for reporting a tornado warning in their area.”
She said they will always encourage school officials, when in doubt, to play it safe and shelter in place until the threat of severe weather has passed.