By John F. Schaffner

Atlanta Public Schools (APS) has been awarded a $496,000 grant from the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Safe & Drug Free Schools to improve and strengthen the district’s school safety plans and its responses to school emergencies.

APS was one of 77 school districts nationally to receive the 2006 Emergency Response Crisis Management (ERCM) Grant.

The grant will be used to fund the Emergency Response Crisis Management Project, which began this month and will be completed in March 2008. Chief Marquenta A. Sands, APS Director of Security and the ERCM project sponsor, will direct the project.

The primary goal of the project is to identify, develop and implement strategies that provide for the safety of students and staff throughout the district. Key project staff members will be assigned to schools and will work with students, parents and other community stakeholders to ensure the broadest level of input into all of the safety plans.

Federal, state and local emergency management agencies, along with the City of Atlanta’s police and fire departments and mayor’s office, will be involved at every level of the plan development.

“We will use a train-the-trainer model to build capacity throughout the district,” says Chief Sands. “We want to ensure we are establishing a strong foundation to withstand any crisis or emergency that could occur in our school system. Working closely with our partners will ensure that protocols are developed using an all-hazards approach.”

The primary result of the ERCM project will be comprehensive, updated/revised district and school plans for handling specific hazards. The project also will educate and prepare team members to lead students, staff and first responders in completing their responsibilities during emergency response to minimize the consequences of the threat.

The project also will assure that the plans are sustainable through continuous updates, reviews, training, drills and practice to ensure that APS is prepared to deal with hazards and threats into the future.