Request, resources, and info in the aftermath of Sandy Hook

Originally posted Dec. 17, 2012

This memo from Commissioner Bowen is intended for superintendents, heads of private schools, and other administrators. It includes links below to key resources on emergency preparedness and talking with children about Sandy Hook.

Friday’s tragedy in Newtown, Conn., has shocked and saddened us beyond words. The Governor and I have both expressed our condolences and send our thoughts and prayers. I confess I can’t help but feel that our words seem insufficient within the scope of the tragedy. Still, I know that they are important, and I appreciate the efforts many of you have made to share your thoughts and prayers, and your efforts to communicate with your parents in the aftermath of this national tragedy.

By now most of you are in high gear, preparing for the questions students and parents will have about safety in your schools, as well as dealing with the emotions that come with this event.

One thing that we can all do is to revisit our emergency plans. Naturally parents and students and the community want to know that Maine schools are safe. While we can never guarantee that our schools are 100 percent danger-free, we can provide assurances that we have plans in place.

I am asking every school district in the state to examine its all-hazards emergency plans as soon as possible to ensure they are up-to-date, and to involve local law enforcement/public safety personnel in that review, and to consider what efforts may be necessary locally to update plans, train, or otherwise enhance preparedness and planning.

As you know, all school districts in Maine are required by law to have a comprehensive emergency management plan in place and reviewed and approved by the school board annually. These plans are developed and updated in collaboration (also required by law) with local emergency personnel. This collaboration not only makes for a better plan, it also establishes familiarity and lines of communication that can be vital in times of emergency.

Reviewing these plans is a smart thing to do in light of this grim reminder, and will also serve as a re-assurance to Maine families. Maine Emergency Management Agency has excellent resources specifically for schools on its Maine Prepares web pages.

We at Maine DOE have created a Sandy Hook web page with a number of resources for school districts and parents and families, including: information about emergency planning and preparedness, how to talk with children, a Q&A, and other materials. We will add to the page as we discover appropriate resources.

Sadly, we cannot prevent every tragedy, but we can comfort Maine families with the knowledge that Maine schools have planned and are prepared. Maine has a robust training program in which law enforcement at all levels – from local to state – are given intensive and consistent training on how to deal with an “active shooter” situation. In the event of a shooting incident, we have people across the state with a high level of training prepared to step in. Maine DOE is actively working with MEMA (and was before these events) to update the requirements on evacuation drills to also include lock-down drills. We can all do more and this horrible event is a reminder that we must continually re-examine our efforts in this area.

Pat Hinckley is our liaison to MEMA. If you have questions about school preparedness, she is an excellent resource, as is Dwane Hubert at MEMA, and, most of all, your county Emergency Management Agency and local fire, rescue and law enforcement agencies.

Resources and more information

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