What is the mission of your organization?
The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Safe and Supportive Schools (OSSS) administers the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance (TA) Center with the goal to support a safe and supportive learning environment for children,
faculty, staff, and others through two critical functions. Our first function is to build the emergency preparedness capacity of schools, school districts, and institutions of higher education (IHEs) as well as their community partners at the local, state,
and federal levels. When we talk about “emergency preparedness,” we are referring to the
National Preparedness System mission areas, which include prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery. Our second mission is to serve as the National School Safety Center—here to support schools, school districts, and IHEs with all aspects
of emergency planning through the
REMS TA Center Website.
What is the role of your organization in a public health emergency?
In collaboration with OSSS, we provide resources and trainings to support state and local education agencies with various aspects of their planning efforts for response and recovery, including but not limited to managing communications and warnings to inform
the whole school community. Of paramount importance in many public health emergencies is the potential closures of schools, and we assist with monitoring the status of school closures at a regional or national level. We provide resources on continuity of education
so that learning can be continued even during a prolonged school closure. We also connect various levels of educational agencies, when appropriate, such as local education agencies (LEAs) with state education agencies (SEAs) and other federal partners that
can assist with critical areas of importance in response and recovery efforts. These areas of importance include federal, state, and local resources; funding programs; and relevant legislation. We also host a section on our website that provides topical resources
on threats and hazards that can cause a public health emergency, including natural hazards, biological hazards, technological hazards, and adversarial- and human-caused threats. In response to natural disasters and requests from SEAs and LEAs, we often provide
direct technical assistance in the aftermath of an emergency, which includes hosting a live training on topics such as development of emergency operations plans (EOPs), resilience strategies for educators, behavioral threat assessment, and site assessment.
We have also supported SEAs with the development of state-level plans for assisting schools in disasters.
How do you plan for emergencies?
Planning is a continuous cycle, so we revise and maintain protocols and recommendations in collaboration with OSSS year-round, using
National Preparedness Month and the back-to-school season in September as the start of our calendar year. Our mission is to always be ready to support education agencies and their community partners with the various threats and hazards they may face. Therefore,
a significant part of planning for us involves remaining informed on current research, trends, and legislation, as well as continually producing resources, publications, and tools that can support schools and IHEs in the event they encounter an emergency for
which we can provide support. The main reason we remain focused on an all-hazards and all-threats approach is because the universe of potential emergencies that education agencies may face is vast, yet also unique for every locality. Since we support communities
across the nation, our repository of information and resources must meet that extent and diversity of need.
What is one experience or lesson that you have learned from an emergency response?
Relationship-building is one of the most important elements of a well-managed response, and those relationships should be cultivated before an emergency happens. As outlined in the
Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans (School Guide), Step 1 in the six-step planning process for EOP development is
formation of a collaborative planning team. When key stakeholders who play an integral role during response and recovery are ready in advance and aware of and trained on their responsibilities, it can reduce anxiety and stress, ensure all emergency functions
that may require activation are considered, and quicken the pace with which schools can resume operations and continue teaching and learning. In addition, when schools and IHEs remain in constant contact with key stakeholders who support response and recovery,
it can support informed updates to EOPs after events take place. As experienced practitioners always say, you never want to be making introductions with critical response partners while an emergency is happening.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to other EPIC partners?
To recognize that preparedness is not a one-and-done activity—it is an evolving field that requires ongoing learning, like anything else. Not only do the type of emergencies we face continue to evolve, but the way in which we should respond and recover from
them does, too. Emergency management is a growing and developing field, and in staying abreast of these changes—both locally and nationally—we all can become better prepared for what’s ahead, even the inevitable unknown. The REMS TA Center offers a wide range
of free resources and trainings to help practitioners at every level stay informed and continue to evolve their understanding of preparedness. We would love for your partners and audience to share information about the resources, tools, and trainings that
we offer to schools, IHEs, and their community partners as they work to strengthen EOPs and their overall emergency preparedness planning efforts. We are available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET to respond to direct requests for technical assistance
by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and phone at 1-855-781-REMS . Our Website is available 24/7, 365 days of the year and serves as the key hub to access the support we provide. Learn more at