Building vulnerability assessment aids school district’s safety measures

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

It never hurts to be prepared. That’s why, earlier this school year, MFL MarMac completed a vulnerability assessment of its buildings, helping to assure the district is doing all it can to keep staff and students safe.

“We have safety systems in place. We know what we’re going to do,” said high school principal Larry Meyer, “but it’s good to revisit and check to see we’re current with all the facets of safety, that there aren’t any gaps.”

For the assessment, Meyer said he physically walked around the building with a member of the fire department, noting each possible entrance/exit, as well as the vulnerabilities it might pose to those at school. 

“We discussed personal identification and building access,” he said. “We covered every door, considered the windows and looked at anything that might need to be upgraded.”

In the Monona building alone, there are 52 doors people can get in and out of, Meyer noted.

“These buildings have been around for a long time. That’s how they were built,” he said. “Every little detail you look at is interesting. It makes you look at the physical place in a little different light.”

Meyer said the fire department will take the information gathered through the building vulnerability assessment and present recommendations to the school. It will be part of what he called an ongoing process to keep the school safe. 

Although most people worry about shooting tragedies, planning for a potential active shooter is just part of the entire scope of keeping people safe, Meyer explained.

“There are so many different kinds of hazards,” he said. Natural hazards like earthquakes, floods, tornadoes and blizzards are considered. So are fires, medical emergencies, power outages, water problems, boiler system explosions and chemical and hazardous waste spills.

“We’re in a farming community,” he said. “Say there’s an anhydrous leak. Depending on the way the wind’s blowing, we may have to evacuate.”

Meyer said behavioral interventions—how staff approach student behaviors—also have to be considered. Fortunately, he added, the district boasts good kids who cause few problems.

Every school year, students and staff practice fire and tornado drills. Last fall, they practiced an evacuation drill, exiting the building and meeting at a predetermined point in town.

There are many factors to consider when developing an evacuation plan, Meyer said.

“If a group is in the gym, it’s different than if they’re in a classroom,” he said. “In the elementary, what do you do if they’re out at recess? You could have a high school P.E. class outside. Students might be in the parking lot when something happens. You have to cover all your bases.”

The school is up to the task, though.

“We have really good, really knowledgeable people here,” Meyer shared. “We’re taking the input of the school safety team as well as the fire department and police to keep the school district as safe as possible.”

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