Region’s Schools Unprepared for Crises

KNOXVILLE — Many schools in the Southeast are unprepared to handle emergencies such as student deaths, fights and weapons threats, a University of Tennessee survey has found.

More than half of Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia school districts surveyed lack proper crisis training, skip emergency practice drills, and report low levels of preparedness, even though most have had recent crisis events, the UT study found.

“This lack of preparedness, reported in combination with relatively high levels of crisis incidents, gives reason for concern,” Dr. Susan Smith, a UT health and safety science professor who headed the study, said.

“Districts should pay special attention to increasing future training efforts and performing more full-scale drills.”

Smith said 258 school districts — most with more than 3,000 students — responded to the survey.

Nearly all have plans and have used them recently for emergencies, but most fail to practice, train, or prepare for using the plans, Smith said.

Crises studied included student or faculty deaths, violence, hostages, weapons, transport accidents, and school emergencies such as fires, tornadoes, bombings or threats.

The survey developed by UT, the National School Safety Center, and the Center for the Prevention of School Violence found:
— 57 percent of Tennessee school districts report incidents involving weapons, 59 percent violent fights, and 51 percent threats. Tennessee has the highest percentages in these categories of the three states surveyed.
— 95 percent of districts have a crisis management plan, but only 47 percent held at least eight hours of crisis training or full-scale drills (not fire drills) in the last year; 26 percent have never had training.
— 62 percent have responded in the last three years to incidents involving student deaths; 50 percent to violence or fights; 47 percent to weapons on campus; and 40 percent to threats.

Smith said more training and drills for emergency operations such as evacuations, locating exits and safe shelters, managing violence, and crisis communications are needed.

Smith was to present the study’s findings Friday at the International Emergency Management Society conference in Kissimmee, Fla. She also is compiling survey data from Indiana and Illinois schools.