Sequim residents in coming months may get more help in preparing to handle catastrophes, including a text alert notification system for families with students at Sequim schools and a community crisis drill coming in 2019.
Leaders from the Sequim Police Department, Clallam County Fire District 3, Clallam County Sheriff and City of Sequim joined hosts from the Sequim School District at a safety forum on Oct. 17, discussing how their departments prevent, respond to and recover from community emergencies.
Sequim schools superintendent Gary Neal announced at the forum that the district plans to launch a text alert notification system in November that parents and school staff can opt into by proving a telephone number to receive alerts during a school event, emergency, drill, or any circumstance involving student safety.
“Our goal is to try and get information out there in three minutes,” Neal said.
In an interview, the district’s communication outreach coordinator, Hanna McAndie, said the text alert notifications will be run by district officials through the district’s website provider.
Parents who agree to the terms and the conditions of the text alert notifications must provide a phone number that can receive text messages.
McAndie also said there will be a separate text alert notification system for district employees so staff at each school building can be alerted all at the same time during a school emergency or event.
“It’s similar to how college campuses use them,” McAndie said. “It really ups our communication so the entire district knows what’s going on.”
The district sent out a survey to about 267 parents and comments indicate parents prefer to be alerted about school safety via automated phone call and text message, Neal said in an interview.
Sequim Police Chief Sheri Crain also mentioned during the forum that there will be a “mature” emergency exercise coming in 2019 involving the district to cover emergency response protocols to a hypothetical emergency situation.
Crain did not elaborate on what kind of drill would be exercised, but in a later interview Neal said the exercise — whose scenario or crisis has not been established yet — is planned for August of 2019.
Each department gave an overview of how their officials operate in the event of a community crisis.
City of Sequim manager Charlie Bush emphasized the city’s strategy of utilizing the Emergency Operation Center on West Cedar Street during a natural disaster or community crisis.
City officials are looking to establish an agreement with Clallam County Fire District 3, Bush said, so that if there is a community emergency both agencies can operate the center together.
“(The city) has outfitted (the center) to handle emergency response,” Bush said at the forum.
Crain said when it comes to school safety, Sequim Police have a School Resource Officer (SRO) on district grounds during school hours, and that police officials have done several walk-throughs of each school building to know what the needs are for each building.
“Being able to have SROs in schools is huge,” she said. “Having them in schools is a significant prevention piece.”
Crain said the department has been training for active shooter scenarios over the last six-plus years and has integrated training with the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, fire department and school district.
While there were many questions asked by audience members following each section of the forum, Crain said the point of the forum is to provide information to community members on how each department operates separately and together during emergencies.
“We don’t have all the answers,” Crain said. “But we’re here to try and give you some information.”
At the forum, District 3 Fire Chief Ben Andrews said the fire district does internal training and has met with law enforcement on response protocols.
Andrews said the fire district also has provided emergency response training to the community in several ways, such as Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, CPR training to high school students, and brought Stop the Bleed — a program that provides training on how to stop bleeding — to schools and citizens.
Andrews noted that in the event of a major disaster or community crisis there are only eight to 10 full-time firefighters on duty in the Sequim area. Because of that, Sequim residents may not see significant numbers of emergency responders because of a lack of resources.
“We have a very limited response capability,” Andrews said.
Clallam County Sheriff Sgt. Shaun Minks said sheriff’s office staff are regularly practicing emergency drills and training to best protect the community, as well as learning ways about how to teach community members safety protocols.
“Not only can we train ourselves on how to enhance prevention and how we respond, but we also teach others in the community,” Minks said.
During the forum, Neal said the district is working on better communication methods regarding school safety both within the district and with parents.
“We realize our lack of communication in the last year,” Neal said.
“We also need to make parents aware of the right questions to ask and we need to continue working on getting as prepared as we can (for a school emergency).”
Sequim School District staff continue to meet regularly with local emergency responders and the city, Neal said, and plan to continue safety training in the next year for district administration, staffers and students.
“There’s a lot of things we need to figure out,” Neal said. “But there’s no doubt in my mind that our kids are going to have the best care from the folks up here. If something bad happened, there will be the right people there.”