Fall is good time for families to discuss plans for severe weather

September 19, 2012

By JAMES EVANS
Rutherford County Schools

MURFREESBORO — Rutherford County Schools takes the safety of its students and staff seriously and goes to great lengths each school year to practice and refine emergency response procedures, especially those dealing with weather emergencies. 

For parents, it’s important to know what to expect from your schools during weather emergencies, hopefully to foster a better sense of cooperation and understanding during these types of events.  

Weather emergencies are one of the most common threats to our schools because of the turbulent weather conditions in Tennessee. The school district constantly evaluates its procedures to look for improved ways to handle these situations.

It may be helpful to understand the history of the district’s emergency response plans. During the past decade, the school district has moved to a uniform emergency plan that is used by all schools. Previously, schools had individual plans that were similar to one another but often used different terminology, codes and procedures depending on the administrators at the school. 

A few years ago, the district formed a safety committee consisting of members from emergency management, police, fire, school administrators and parents. That committee developed the initial uniform plan and oversaw its implementation. 

Since that time, the district has created a Safe Schools program manager position, which works with emergency personnel and schools to schedule trainings, participate in debriefings after emergencies and suggest changes when necessary to the director of schools. 

The school district’s plan for weather emergencies involves a layered response depending on the severity of the situation. 

During severe thunderstorms and lightning, for example, the plan calls for schools to end outdoor activities, keep students and personnel away from windows and to monitor the forecast closely in case additional precautions become necessary. 

During a tornado watch, all students in portables or other outbuildings are brought to the main building and the school advances to a higher alert level until the National Weather Service lifts the watch. 

During a tornado warning — which indicates a strong potential for imminent danger — students and staff members are moved to the designated safe areas within the school. Parents and other visitors at the school are invited to join the others in the safe areas, but students cannot be released until the warning expires. 

Parents often don’t understand this rule, but it exists for two main reasons. First, in order for students to be dismissed, it requires a staff member to leave the safe area to checkout the student. Secondly, it is typically safer to be in a well built, brick building during a tornado than to be in a motor vehicle trapped on a roadway. 

Another common weather emergency involves the threat of snow and ice, which is difficult to accurately predict in Tennessee. 

The district makes every effort possible to announce school closings early so parents can make alternate child care arrangements. Unfortunately, however, the weather forecast is often uncertain until only a few hours before a snow storm hits. Parents are notified of closings or early dismissals using the district’s School Messenger notification program, the district website and the media. The district is also considering social media strategies for making these types of announcements. 

The fall season is the perfect time for families to discuss and determine their contingency plans for emergencies. Any parent who would like to learn more about Rutherford County Schools’ emergency plans should contact their children’s schools or RCS Safe Schools program manager Josh Kubly at (615) 893-5812.