Central Susquehanna IU 16: Center for Safe Schools Instills Emergency Preparedness

School principals, teachers, and staff are conscientious about the safety of their students, but it’s difficult for the untrained eye to spot every hazard in the school environment.

The Center for Safe Schools, a statewide program in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Education and administered by Central Susquehanna IU 16, empowers schools to create safer environments and protect their students all day, every day.

“We have to plan for the Sandy Hook incidents,” says Don Smith, the Center for Safe Schools’ emergency planning and response management coordinator. “We can’t ignore them. They’re out there, but they’re very few of our responses. We’re more likely to have a medical emergency in a school and a bus transportation accident than we are any type of shooting.”

Smith is an experienced teacher, school administrator, and EMS chief who can assess school safety through the eyes of an educator and an emergency responder. In one of the Center’s primary services, Smith assesses school safety with a long checklist of questions and building walk-throughs.
He has seen generators that aren’t fenced in, automated external defibrillators with bad batteries, expired eyewash stations in chemistry labs, and duct-taped panic alarms. Smith’s detailed assessment “exposes weaknesses in emergency planning.”

“I give them hard-core recommendations of how to improve safety,” Smith says.

The Center for Safe Schools’ other services include emergency preparedness training, direct help with school-specific issues, and help updating all-hazards plans, which frequently grow dusty with age. By making the school environment safer and training educators in appropriate emergency responses, the Center helps schools assure parents that children are in good hands.

“We don’t hire teachers to be emergency responders,” says Smith, “but when something happens, we expect them to be emergency responders.”

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