KSLA INVESTIGATES: Preparing your kids for a school emergency

We spent months working to find out how often NWLA schools reported emergency drills

Safety First: Emergency Drills in NWLA Schools

SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) - Fire. Severe weather. Active shooters.

These are all scenarios we’d rather pretend never occur — especially within the confines of the schools our kids attend. That’s why being ready to respond in the unlikely event of a fast-moving emergency, could be a school’s best defense in protecting its most important resource: your children.

It’s why KSLA Investigates wanted to find out what Louisiana requires of its public schools to keep students prepared for the unthinkable.

The Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education mandates public school districts have an emergency plan developed with local law enforcement.

Schools are required to rehearse their emergency plan annually. But for one national school safety expert, that requirement is alarming.

“That seems rather small based on other requirements in states around the country," said Ronald Stephens, the executive director of the National School Safety Center.

We sat down with school security officials across Northwest Louisiana to learn more about their district’s emergency drill requirements.

Roy Murry, the security director for Caddo Parish Schools, said each school in his district is required to perform at least 10 fire drills per year, followed by three emergency preparedness drills.

“We have to have a clear understanding of how prepared we think our faculty and our students are,” Murry said. “I don’t think there’s anything more important than making sure our students and staff are as safe as they can possibly be on our campuses.”

In Webster, Ursula Hullaby, the safe schools coordinator, said schools in her district drill twice a month.

“We eat, sleep and breathe safety,” she said. “Anything can happen at any time and we’re not exempt — that means we have to step up our game everyday.”

Hullaby said she does not believe Louisiana’s one drill a year policy is strong enough to adequately prepare students.

“Our district has shown we don’t feel that it is,” Hullaby said. “We’ve met that requirement, but we also have a standard for ourselves and our students.”

Stephens says other states across the country have stricter emergency drill requirements for public schools. For example, schools in New Jersey are required to have one fire drill and one emergency drill each month.

“We know we can’t prevent all crises, so crisis preparation is the next step,” Stephens said.

Other ArkLaTex states have more stringent rules than Louisiana for how often public schools are supposed to conduct emergency drills.

A law just went into effect in Texas which could require schools to drill up to eight times per year beginning in 2020. In Arkansas, schools conduct at least three tornado drills annually, along with active shooter training.

“There should probably be three or four of these drills at least throughout the school year,” Stephens said. “Have them take place at different times throughout the day, as well.”

So, how often do public schools your children attend in Northwest Louisiana conduct emergency drills? We spent months digging through open records from 2016 through 2019 to find out.

Louisiana law requires public schools to document drills rehearsed. However, based on records submitted to KLSA Investigates, every district — excluding Lincoln Parish — had schools that failed to submit information for some drills during our sweep.

Here’s a breakdown of which districts lacked documents:

  • 12 Webster schools and 10 Caddo schools
  • Nine schools in Sabine and Natchitoches Parish
  • Six schools in Bienville and five in Claiborne Parish
  • Three schools in Bossier, Red River and DeSoto

Officials in most of the districts tell us the schools did drill — despite missing records.

“The best we can do is prevent a crisis,” Stephens said.

In the event an unfathomable series of events were to unfold, Stephens believes Louisiana schools could be better prepared, simply by drilling down on what’s already required.

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