Emergency preparedness not taken lightly by county schools

By Genine Hopkins

In the aftermath of the devastating tornadoes that ripped through Oklahoma, the local TV news channel 9 & 10 reported on how Michigan K-12 schools stack up in safety as it pertains to conducting emergency drills.  It appears that Clare County has implemented a highly successful strategy to insure state compliance for emergency drills.

The segment on 9 & 10 News reported that some Michigan schools were falling short of the required minimum for emergency drills.  These drills include fire drills, lockdown drills and “wind” or tornado drills.  The Review decided to examine how the county’s three school districts handled this emergency preparedness, since the TV report did not specifically mention Clare County.

What was found is that the county’s three liaison officers – Al White in Clare, Erica Vredevelt in Farwell, and Nick Oster in Harrison – have taken the lead on emergency drills, working closely with Clare County Emergency Manager Jerry Becker, who is often in attendance at their meetings, to insure each district is as safe and prepared as possible.

The Review spoke with Liaison Officer Al White, who is retiring after this school year.  Officer White spoke about how school and county officials work together to insure that safety measures are met, whether that is coordinating drills or executing the proper security for each building.

“Jerry attends many of our meetings and the officers at each school support each other very effectively,” Officer White stated, “We go through regular training and quite frankly, for such a small area that we cover, I feel we do a superb job.”

That boasting isn’t unfounded.  The report on 9 & 10 found many larger districts, with more monetary resources than Clare County, often fall very short on executing the required number of drills.  With school emergency situations becoming more the norm, it is imperative that students and teachers are not caught off guard.  Indeed Clare County school districts have worked consistently with their resources at the local level to prevent casualties if such an emergency were to happen here.

During a phone interview, County Emergency Director Jerry Becker stated that he helped to initiate maintaining the documentation for these drills, taking the pressure off the districts to house them.

“If all the records are kept with the Emergency Management Department, it frees the school administrators from having to produce them if asked by state officials.  Additionally, it helps me keep updated on how the districts are coming along, providing me the opportunity to help them if needed.  Having such a close knit community makes my job easier, and it says a lot for the Superintendents who value their students’ safety.”

In addition to the drills, all the area elementary schools have buzzer systems for entry, and most buildings have only one or two entries possible, with clear views from the offices for security.

“We may not be big, but we’re very motivated in providing superior security,” White stated, “In the end, these students count on us to protect them, a job we take very seriously.”

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