Continued Coordination Necessary to Ensure School Security

Apr 14, 2016 Issues: National Security

Washington, D.C. – A new report on security and emergency preparedness in our nation’s schools was released this week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report, GAO-16-144, entitled Emergency Management: Improved Federal Coordination Could Better Assist K-12 Schools Prepare for Emergencies, was jointly requested by Ranking Member of the Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications Subcommittee Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee Chairwoman Martha McSally (R-AZ), Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications Subcommittee Chairman Dan Donovan (R-NY), and Rep. Susan Brooks.

It’s been almost nine years since the GAO completed its review on the state of school emergency preparedness. The new report details state and local emergency operation plans in schools following a spate of school shootings across the country, as well as challenges in the prevention, protection, mitigation, and recovery aspects of a potential emergency.

Rep. Payne, Jr., Chairman McCaul, Rep. McSally, Rep. Donovan, and Rep. Brooks issued the following statement on the heels of the report:

“The ultimate goal is to better protect our children by identifying inefficiencies and security gaps in emergency preparedness plans at schools across our nation. We must work together to support state and local efforts to prevent, protect, mitigate, respond to, and recover from a potential emergency. The better coordinated security planning efforts are, the better protected our children will be.”  

Background:

  • Efforts to ensure school security at the federal, state, and local level have been ramped up dramatically in recent years in an effort to protect children and communities from threats and hazards they face.
  • In 2013, the Department of Education, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Justice jointly released the Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans in an effort to help schools effectively plan for emergencies.

Key Findings:

  • Federal agencies have various resources to support schools for emergencies, but their efforts are not strategically coordinated.
  • GAO found that this lack of coordination risks wasting federal resources on potentially duplicative, overlapping, or fragmented efforts.
  • While federal agencies such as the Department of Education, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Justice provide financial and technical assistance to states and localities to better respond to school emergencies, a number of surveyed school districts were unaware of these resources.
  • Within the last three school years, 96% of school districts have conducted emergency drills, according to GAO’s survey of states.
  • 92% of school districts recently updated their emergency operations plans, according to GAO’s survey of school districts.
  • In Fiscal Year 2014, eighteen states provided State Homeland Security Grant Program funds to school districts and schools for emergency planning activities that ranged from $25,000 to $1.2 million.

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