The 2016 Legislative Session of the Indiana General Assembly passed Senate Enrolled Act 147 requiring the Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS) to establish minimum standards and approve best practices no later than 1 July 2017 for a school emergency response system. The new guidelines are helping to improve school safety and security across the state and offer a template for other states to consider when reviewing and updating their emergency response systems.
Senate Bill 147 defines the term “emergency response system” and requires the department to establish emergency response system guidelines with input from the Division of School Building Safety within the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE). Emergency response systems were given the following definition:
Systems designed to improve technology and infrastructure on school property that may be used to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from a manmade or natural disaster or emergency occurring on school property.
The legislation was written in such a way that provided IDHS flexibility to develop a product that best addressed the legislative requirement. As mentioned in the definition above, it was important that the product addressed an all-hazards approach to school safety, which would more effectively address a well-rounded emergency response system. The legislation required IDHS to simply develop guidelines, rather than requirements for schools to follow. This has allowed Indiana schools to be flexible with their implementation of the guidelines.
It was essential for state government to include external stakeholders in both the public and private sectors to ensure that the developed guidelines included the most appropriate information and was developed with input from around the state. The product working group involved nine Indiana professional associations related to public safety and education, federal professional associations, and state government agencies that brought important perspectives into the decision-making process (all partners are listed on page 1 of the document).
This group brought together approximately 20 individuals who met four times throughout 2016 and the first half of 2017 to implement a strategy, discuss and debate product content, and ensure that a well-rounded safety and security document was developed.
The final product, titled Indiana School Safety Guidelines for Emergency Response Systems, identified 17 school emergency response components as decided by the project working group. The components address the necessary pieces of an emergency response system that are encouraged to be included in every school. The guidelines focus on the following recommendations:
- Access Control & Visitor Management
- Training & Exercise Opportunities
- Planning, Procedure, and Policy
- Facility Safety Leadership and Direction
- Importance of Building Relationships with and Involving Local First Responders
These five topics are expanded upon within each of the 17 components.
One of the consistent themes of the product is “people over products.” The group acknowledges the importance of physical tools for safety and security (e.g., doors, locks, windows), but without training these tools are less effective. Putting the focus on the people involved in school safety emphasizes building relationships with first responders, preparing uncommon stakeholders (e.g., facilities staff, parents, bus staff) for emergency situations, and identifying methods of utilizing the large student population as a trained safety and security mitigation tool.
On 1 July 2017, the project working group successfully developed a product that has been disseminated around Indiana. To share this information, professional associations, local emergency management agencies, and IDOE were utilized, and a copy was posted for the public on the IDHS website.
The legislation not only required IDHS to develop guidelines, but also maintain them. No specific maintenance schedule was provided, but IDHS determined that an annual review of the product was appropriate and would disseminate an updated product on 1 July 2018.
With the 2017 product released, it is important that IDHS request feedback from individuals who work in and around schools on a daily basis. To do that, the IDHS needed to get into the communities and talk with its partners. This socialization initiative is helping to gain statewide agreement and support for the included content, to guide content, and to direct the future of this product.
IDHS identified County School Safety Committee Meetings, held in each Indiana County, as the best method for receiving product feedback. Meetings occur at the discretion of the committee, some on a monthly basis, whereas others occur once per year. County commission meetings bring together representatives from the schools, first responders, local government, state government, and relevant private industry.
Through the end of 2017 and into early 2018, IDHS intends to attend county commission meetings around the state to elicit input. Through December 2017, IDHS has already attended 10 county meetings in various parts of the state. The important feedback received has seen information added to the National Incident Management Systems trainings that is specific to school employees and addresses the importance of providing safety training to part-time or contract staff.
The project working group will continue to play a critical role in the development and revision of this document. The working group will review any information included in this document to maintain transparency and collaborative input.