Thursday, 06 October 2016 08:00

Southeast Alta. school divisions on same page with emergency protocols

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Brian Andjelic, superintendent for Prairie Rose School Division, talks about emergency protocols and the common language that Prairie Rose, Medicine Hat Public School District and Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education will be using moving forward. Brian Andjelic, superintendent for Prairie Rose School Division, talks about emergency protocols and the common language that Prairie Rose, Medicine Hat Public School District and Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education will be using moving forward. Photo by Rose Sanchez

The school divisions in southeast Alberta are working together to roll out a plan to better educate the media, parents and students as well as the general public about the language that should be used during emergency situations.


Officials with Prairie Rose School Division, Medicine Hat Public School District and Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education released the language around emergency protocols they hope everyone will use moving forward at a joint event Sept. 29, that also included officials with police services and RCMP.
The need to collaborate on emergency protocols and the language used around events became more apparent after an incident earlier this year, when students in the Prairie Rose and Catholic systems received threatening text messages.
“The three (school) divisions learned we were not on the same page with language or protocols, but especially language,” said Brian Andjelic, superintendent for Prairie Rose. “I think that was bad news for kids, it was bad news for parents, it was bad news for the school divisions and it was bad news for the media.”
When that incident took place, people on social media were saying that some local schools were in a lock down, when in fact they were in a state of what is known as hold and secure. There is a big difference between the two, pointed out Andjelic, who said it caused a social media storm and a lot of misinformation.
“At that point, the misinformation was hurtful,” he added. “Our intent is to clarify our language as a result of the school divisions clarifying our relationships with each other.”
Andjelic spoke about the decision making that takes place around emergency protocols. While most people think of incidents as violence, there can in fact be times when a protocol is enacted due to a threat such as weather.
A quick reference guide has been created by the divisions which officials plan to share widely in the coming months with parents, students and staff.
There are four terms that will be used moving forward. A lock down refers to a situation where there is an immediate threat of violence to students and staff inside a school building. The school does not operate as normal inside the building during this situation. A hold and secure refers to when there is an emergency situation in close proximity to the school, outside the school on school grounds and/ or unrelated to the school. While exterior doors are locked, the school operates as normal inside the building. Shelter in Place refers to an environmental emergency in close proximity to the school and an evacuation refers to possible danger inside the school such as fire or a chemical spill and students need to be escorted to a safe location away from the school.
Andjelic pointed out that the school divisions themselves are the best sources of accurate information, not social media or even the general media. He said each division has systems in place to be able to get that information to parents, students and staff quickly and directly.
The superintendents from all three divisions also stressed they will work hard to ensure the message they are sharing is accurate and using the common language, but they need media, parents, students and the general public to also be using the same language and not creating social media storms by spreading inaccurate information.
Redcliff RCMP Staff Sgt. Sean Maxwell encouraged those in attendance to tell parents to talk about emergency situations in schools with their children a couple of times a year, so they understand the language being used and why.
“The time for parents to discuss with children what is going on, is not when there is a hold in place or a lock down (in a school),” he added.
Just as parents are encouraged to speak with their children about fire prevention and escape plans, they should also be talking about emergency protocols, lock downs and serious events that can take place in or around a school.
“Have those talks between mom and dad and the kids. Having those talks never hurts,” he added.
The school divisions will roll out their campaigns around emergency protocol over the next few months, to better educate parents, students and the general public.
In Prairie Rose School Division, information is always available on the website at http://prrdweb.com.
A handout for parents will also be distributed, and people can sign up for the School Messenger system, which sends out messages to users via texting to cellphones. There will also be social media campaigns in the coming months, including some contests to watch for, as well as presentations at school and parent councils and information in upcoming newsletters.

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor

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