Norwalk Schools research emergency scenario, safety preparedness

Brien McMahon High School teacher Bob Kilacky talks to a participant of the Norwalk Public Schools tabletop emergency preparedness exercise Thursday in the Center for Global Studies.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Public Schools took its biggest step to date in regards to school safety Friday with a gathering at Brien McMahon High School to share information, officials said.

“I think what we did today is probably the most important thing that, in my opinion, the district and the city has done for school preparedness to date,” Brien McMahon High School teacher Bob Kilacky said.

The tabletop exercise in the Center for Global Studies involved about 150 school teachers and administrators, with teams from every Norwalk school, including the three private schools, Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy said. They met with about 25 members of the police and fire departments and used the newly developed emergency guides in a simulation of a violent incident.

“We want to understand how each school is using the guides,” McCarthy said of the manuals modeled after those developed in Colorado by the “I Love U Guys” Foundation.

While emergency manuals in the past were thick binders, the new emergency guides used in the schools are basic reference materials that can be easily referenced in an emergency, McCarthy said. The thick, more detailed packets of information are used by the Central Office.

The new manuals are built on the four basic options of lockout, lockdown, evacuate and shelter. These are being taught to children from kindergarten through high school.

Kilacky’s involvement began as a member of the Brien McMahon school safety team, and he is now the district’s school preparedness coordinator. He has visited all of the schools, he said.

“They have always been looking out and trying to protect kids and make kids safe,” he said. “It’s all of the other pieces that are going to sort of fall on top of a school to support it and help it recover, that is really what we worked on today.”

The realization for school administrators and teachers, who are, in essence, the pre-first responders in an emergency, was that there are other entities to support them, and that is “pretty comforting,” he said.

“The whole point behind the table top exercise was literally to talk about process, talk about what were some unidentified requirements. What are the — as we communicate, collaborate with each other — what are the hand-offs? What are the issues?” he said.

McCarthy said the exercise represented a major time commitment.

“The school system has obviously tremendous pressure on every minute of every day,” he said. “We have been meeting monthly since January of 2013, and in the last six months twice a month. We have visited every elementary school — the police department did school safety surveys. We have met with the emergency teams from each school to bring them along in the process. Then the commitment to have 150 folks participate today, in the middle of the school day, to make sure that we are sharing the information across the entire system is a tremendous commitment of time, and time that is very precious for educators. I would say that is the biggest challenge, cramming a lot of information in the time that is available and making it meaningful for everyone.”

He commended Mayor Harry Rilling and Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera for the effort.

Kilacky said that the schools’ Central Office has been developing a collaboration and coordination role over the last few months, as “an emergency manager for the schools until the emergency management system plugs in more formally.” A principal can call 911 but Central Office coordinates transportation and evacuation, he said.

“The schools focus on accountability and the central office focuses on everything else that is going to take place. That is significantly different, and new leadership on the district level, that is what (Rivera) wants and what he is looking for and this was his tabletop exercise. This is considerable evidence that he is quite serious about it,” he said.

“The most important aspect is to actually be able to get teachers and the first responders in the same room, actually interact,” Norwalk Police Deputy Chief David Wrinn said. “We can pass out as much information as we want, but to actually to get that information in a manner that is back and forth, question-and-answer type of thing, that is where the real value comes from. Also, to have the various schools asking each other questions. Who comes up with a good plan, ‘that’s a good idea, let’s use that,’ and we heard a lot of that today. Where people come up with very good ideas and those ideas will propagate themselves at throughout the schools and eventually become part of the original plan.”

Kilacky said the exercise was in part the fruits of the labor done in a “painstaking” school-by-school safety survey, conducted by Lt. Marc Lepore and Lt. Brian Cunningham, as an initial step in developing a school safety plan. This “was basically archiving that information, those observations, lessons learned and issues,” and figuring out where to go from there.

“It’s kind of like the gold,” he said. “We captured that. Now we’re going to focus. Is it extra training we need? Is it some new equipment we need? A simple thing like a $10 vest at three locations really facilitates evacuations. You tell the bus drivers go to the places where three people are wearing the vests as opposed to the sea of humanity evacuating the schools. Not everything is high priced items. Sometimes it can be a simple low-tech response to something.”

Thursday’s Norwalk Public Schools tabletop emergency preparedness exercise in the Center for Global Studies comes to a conclusion.


2 responses to “Norwalk Schools research emergency scenario, safety preparedness”

  1. anonymous

    Good article and reassuring.

  2. Bob Killackey

    Phenomenal job by the Norwalk Director of Emergency Management (Fire Chief Denis McCarthy)and his Deputy Director (Michele Deluca)in pulling state, city, Norwalk Public Schools, and non-NPS schools representatives into this collaborative learning experience. It is events like these that truly delineate the difference between enthusiasm and capability when it comes to school preparedness. Their expertise and credibility were key to planning and executing this valuable event.

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