Federal Dollars, School Security

In February of 2007, the Nome Public Schools district in Alaska applied for a federal grant from the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) program. In August, the district received $167,000 to enhance safety and security in school facilities.

Nome wasn’t alone. The Los Angeles Unified School district received $485,870 in 2007. Wiggins School district in Wiggins, CO, got $78,650. On the southeast coast, School Board Orange County pulled in $480,145.

All told, the federal government awarded $27M in REMS funding to 91 of the nation’s K-12 school districts last year. The REMS program has been doling out millions for years now. In 2006, REMS grants to local school districts totaled $24.9M. In 2005, the program delivered $31.6M schools around the country.

The goal of REMS (which was formerly called the Emergency Response and Crisis Management grant program) is to help local school districts enhance and fortify their readiness and emergency response management plans. “Providing a safe learning environment for children is one of our most important duties as educators,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings when announcing the 2007 grants. “These grants will support that effort by helping more school districts strengthen their crisis planning and better coordinate with the entire community to ensure the safety of our schools and students.”

Another round of REMS awards will be announced in August. According to the REMS Website www.ed.gov/programs/dvpemergencyresponse/index.html, the program will disperse $24M this year.

The deadline for this year’s grant applications came in February. If you didn’t apply, you’ll have to wait until next year. If you haven’t been applying for these grants — they’ve been available since 2003 — you may be missing out on an important source of funding focused on school security needs.

REMS grants can be substantial. The average new award for small school districts with one to 20 school facilities is $100,000; for medium-sized districts with 21 to 75 schools, $250,000; and for large districts with 76 or more facilities, $500,000.

Those are averages, not limits. In 2007, Chicago Public Schools District #299 received $927,370, the largest grant awarded. The second largest grant went to the Education Service Center, Region 20 in San Antonio for $806,685. Clark County School District in Las Vegas placed third with $773,503.

REMS grants provide funds for a school district (which is referred to as a local education agency or LEA in this program) to use in improving and strengthening its emergency management plan. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), emergency management involves planning to deal with all hazards — which means developing ways to manage features common to all technological and natural disasters and attacks.

Second, emergency management requires establishing partnerships among appropriate local, state, and federal government agencies as well as businesses and voluntary organizations.

Finally, emergency management has a four-phase life cycle, and each phase must be managed. The four phases are prevention-mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.

REMS is a discretionary grant program. Discretionary in this context means competitive. Program managers make awards to applicants that address the programs goals most thoroughly.

According to this year’s call for proposals, which appeared in the Federal Register, the federal government considers the four phases of emergency management to be an absolute priority in awarding REMS funds. Grant proposals must deal with these four phases, and they must include training for school personnel and students; they must coordinate with local law enforcement, public safety, and public health agencies; and they must include communications with parents and guardians.

Phase one of emergency management covers mitigation and prevention. It is possible to reduce the loss of life, injury, and property damage caused by a disaster by taking mitigating actions before a disaster occurs. An example might be emergency communications technology that ensures that school officials and security officers can communicate during an emergency. Another mitigating action might place surveillance cameras in the common areas of the school to allow officials to see what is going on inside the building in the event of an emergency.

Preventive actions, of course, reduce the likelihood that a crisis will occur. These might include anti-bullying and wellness programs. An access control system and intrusion alarms activated after hours might prevent vandalism or theft.

Talk to the police and other first responders and ask for their advice about mitigating and preventive actions you might take.

Preparedness means developing specific plans to be executed when a disaster strikes — and before help arrives.

What is the chain of command? Where is the emergency operations center? What are the responsibilities of everyone in the chain of command? How will the school’s emergency management people communicate among themselves, with first responders arriving on the scene, parents, and students and staff on campus? What is the evacuation plan? What is the plan for staying in place? What supplies must be stockpiled?

Who will set up and manage search and rescue teams? How will those teams operate?

Emergency management experts recommend regular training exercises to ingrain the plan.

In the response phase, police, fire, and medical emergency services arrive on the scene, along with volunteers and organizations such as the Red Cross. The preparedness phase should include plans for helping responders establish a base of operations complete with communications and support people that may be of help. Generally, though, experts handle the response phase.

The response phase deals with immediate needs. The next phase, recovery, aims to rebuild the lives and property that have been destroyed or affected by the disaster. Experts also recommend developing phase-one mitigation concepts during the recovery stage, pointing out the people will likely be more receptive to mitigation plans in the wake of a disaster.

Other Grant Requirements
Grant applications must address the four phases of emergency management, while also describing plans for forming partnerships and collaborations with community organizations, local law enforcement agencies, heads of local governments, and offices of public safety, health, and mental health. Applications must also describe the district’s approach to coordinating with state or local homeland security plans and to supporting the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

Acceptable Uses
According to the REMS web site, grant funds may be used for the following activities: training school safety teams and students; conducting building and facilities audits; communicating emergency response policies to parents and guardians; implementing an Incident Command System; purchasing school safety equipment (to a limited extent); conducting drills and tabletop simulation exercises; and preparing and distributing copies of crisis plans.

For more information about REMS, check out the program’s Website, www.ed.gov/programs/dvpemergencyresponse/index.html.

The Federal Register — Vol. 73, No. 5/Tuesday, January 8, 2008 — contains the call for applications for 2008. Even though the filing deadline has passed, the information in this document can help you prepare to file an application next year. You can retrieve a PDF file of this document at www.ed.gov/news/fedregister.

If you want to talk to a person, contact Sara Strizzi, at the U.S. Department of Education, 303/346-0924. Her email address is [email protected]