June 15, 2023 by HCDE Communications
This week, the Center for Safe and Secure Schools (CSSS) welcomed Harris County school professionals and Harris County Department of Education employees to a new workshop that provides participants with the knowledge and skills to take decisive actions in an emergency.
Inspired by their collective experiences in education and security enforcement, CSSS Officer of School Safety and Security Jeremy Foster, along with specialists Janice Owolabi and Sergio Lopez, designed the Safe School Emergency Response seminar to help educators tailor their emergency plans to fit the unique needs of their students and campuses and learn how to leverage the participation of all staff members in safety procedures.
During one exercise, attendees discussed how to best react to high-stress situations, whether physically or emotionally. Owolabi welcomed the dialogue and noted the reassurance provided when everyone on campus knows their role.
“If we can educate people on how to respond and ensure they aren’t crossing into someone else’s responsibilities, we are helping protect the lives of staff and students,” said Owolabi.
Over the past year, the CSSS evaluated HCDE’s emergency operations plans to develop best practices and safety strategies for the Department’s unique campuses. Assessment of the Department’s campus protocols revealed that the role of some administrators, staff, and facilities personnel in emergency response plans is often overlooked.
“Crisis management is a group effort. We can’t leave things to chance,” said Owolabi. “Administrators and facility members bring a unique perspective and are equally responsible for students that might not be in a classroom during a threat.”
Participants also discussed how to foster a culture of safety on campus and engaged in activities to identify potential signs of danger among students and visitors. Workshop presenters emphasized the importance of monthly drills to discover challenges that could arise in emergencies.
Additionally, organizers explored the difference between an active shooter and an active threat situation, stressing the need for layered security and hyper-vigilance.
“It’s not always going to be someone approaching the school armed. Anyone can present a threat to safety,” said Owolabi. “It could be a verbal or physical threat, even a disagreement in the parking lot that makes its way inside the school. We want to make sure staff knows how to de-escalate those situations.”
Head Start leaders and campus managers attended a tailored version of the workshop as part of an effort to revamp the division’s safety protocols.
“We are grateful to have the CSSS because they understand the particular needs we have,” said Head Start Assistant Director Gulshan Rahman. “Our team uses rolling cribs and baby buggies to evacuate students, and this training addresses those differences. It gives us an opportunity to prepare and drill so when an emergency occurs, our staff is calm and ready to act.”
Attendees also debated potential emergency scenarios and posed questions about how to reconcile state and federal policies with their existing emergency operations plans.
“It’s nice to see people taking the initiative to educate themselves and ask better questions about their district’s present safety protocols,” said Owolabi. “The precautionary steps will keep themselves and our students safer.”
To learn more about the Center for Safe and Secure Schools, visit hcde-texas.org/CSSS.