Disaster preparedness leaders tour New Pal High School

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Joe Fitzgerald, deputy director Hancock County Homeland Security; Miles Hercamp, Southern Hancock schools safety director; Misty Moore, executive director of county homeland security; and Amy Dawson, associate principal New Palestine High School, tour the high school during a safety assessment this week.

NEW PALESTINE — The county’s emergency management directors visited New Palestine High School this week to make sure the building’s renovations are taking disaster preparedness into account.

Misty Moore, executive director of Hancock County Homeland Security, and deputy director Joe Fitzgerald toured the school and spoke with administrators. They discussed how administrators will handle emergencies in the school when the renovation is complete.

“New Pal High School has had and is still in the process of many renovations, which makes it necessary for us to help them re-evaluate their safe areas at different times of the process,” Moore said.

The severe tornadoes that struck western Kentucky in December were reminders that weather disasters can happen at any time.

“We always want the schools to have their preparedness and response plans updated,” Moore said.

Miles Hercamp, director of school safety for Southern Hancock schools, and Amy Dawson, associate principal at NPHS, showed Moore and Fitzgerald the safety measures they are working with during renovations as well as their plans when the renovation is complete.

Wes Anderson, communications director for the district, said it’s important to keep emergency management officials abreast of plans so they can offer advice on improving safety.

“We need to make sure we have safety procedures nailed down,” Anderson said.

Making sure things are secure is not as simple as it sounds, Anderson said. He noted it takes preparedness and knowledge of where students and staff are and where they need to go during disasters.

“These are all things we have to think about as this renovation project continues,” Anderson said. “We want their wisdom and insight, and this is an ongoing thing because we want to make sure we are doing things right.”

Safety measures are a high priority with district officials, Anderson said. Builders understand that too. When presenting a design and during a construction process for things like a school, creating safe havens for students and teachers during weather and other types of emergencies goes into the planning. These are things the average person might not think about, but safety officials do.

Moore noted that officials from the county homeland security department — it formerly was called Hancock County Emergency Management — visit all county schools at least once a year to make sure officials are prepared in the event of a disaster.

“We partner with the schools in the county each year to review these areas with them, get expert advice from the National Weather Service when necessary, and also to observe their biannual drills to ensure the plans work properly and efficiently,” Moore said.

Moore knows the safety of the staff and students at all of the schools in the county is important and she said drills to ensure their response goes as planned is very important.

“The main message for the schools is to follow their emergency plans that are in place,” Moore said.

They encourage officials to have weather radios, to receive and follow county emergency alerts, as well as weather service and local media alerts.

“This ensures there is a redundancy in notification of severe weather in their area,” Moore said. “We have tornado sirens in their areas, but those are intended for people outdoors, so they can’t be the sole source of notification of a tornado warning in their area.”

She said they will always encourage school officials, when in doubt, to play it safe and shelter in place until the severe weather threat has passed.

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