Kansas security panel reviews school safety

11/8/2013

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas schools are becoming better prepared to respond to natural and man-made disasters, a state official said Thursday, but they need additional resources to keep improving.

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas schools are becoming better prepared to respond to natural and man-made disasters, a state official said Thursday, but they need additional resources to keep improving.

Bob Hull, director of the Kansas Center for Safe and Prepared Schools, told a legislative committee that shrinking federal grants have limited the state's ability to help schools prepare for tornadoes or violent intruders.

Hull said that schools are conducting more drills and risk assessments in the wake of the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and the tornado that struck Moore, Okla., injuring several elementary school students. However, he said more training was necessary, as well as building safe rooms to protect students and staff.

"We need to be doing more," said Hull, a former school administrator. "Things are happening in schools but they aren't a reflection of schools. Schools are a reflection of society."

Hull made the remarks to the Legislature's Joint Committee on Kansas Security. Chairman Sen. Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican, said the center has enough funding to get through the next calendar year, but funding beyond that is uncertain.

The center, which was created in 2009, receives $50,000 annually to assist with training and emergency plan development. The rest comes from federal grants, which have declined by nearly 70 percent over the past three years.

Oklahoma passed four bills in response to the Moore tornado, including installation of safe rooms, which could cost as much as $1 billion. Kansas has 286 school districts and more than 1,500 buildings.

Rep. Carolyn Bridges, a Wichita Democrat and former school principal, suggested that legislators consider requiring that school districts include construction of safe rooms in any bond issue for new school facilities or renovations. Wichita is the state's largest school district, and will soon complete installation of safe rooms in all of its buildings as part of a $375 million bond issue.

Hull said more could be done to provide training to undergraduates majoring in education and to administrators in graduate program on how to respond to a spectrum of emergencies.

Emler said other recommendations could include requiring school districts to conduct more emergency drills for a variety of threats, but even would cost additional money and training that isn't available.

Hull said the center found in 2009 that 46 percent of school officials surveyed said they had an adequate crisis plan in place, a number that grew to 73 percent in 2013. Only 28 percent said their schools had a building crisis kit of supplies and vital information prepared in 2009, compared to 58 percent in 2013.

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