Northampton public schools update emergency crisis plans

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By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton’s public schools have updated their crisis plan to be more accessible and easier to use by teachers and staff preparing for or responding to any emergency, from severe weather to a bomb threat.

The Northampton County Sheriff’s Office collaborated with the school division to simplify and improve the document.

Northampton Middle School Principal Ron Yorko said his school’s crisis plan originally had 131 pages.

Northampton was one of many Virginia school divisions that had overly long crisis plans, which likely happened in an attempt to include all the related Virginia laws in one manual, he explained.

One major change in Northampton’s crisis plan is that plain English is now used instead of color codes to describe various emergencies.

For example, instead of saying “code blue” for a weather emergency, administrators will announce that “there is a weather emergency” and specify the weather event, said Kiptopeke Elementary School Principal Fred Eng.

The new plan is user-friendly and provides step-by-step instructions on handling any potential crisis. 

If a school employee answers a phone call from someone making a bomb threat, the crisis plan tells the employee exactly what questions to ask the person making the threat.

The school employee gathers the needed information and turns it over to the principal, who then gives the information to law enforcement officers.

New additions have been made to the crisis plan, including a section on death and suicide. 

“It’s sad that we have to include this, but it’s just where we’re at right now in our society,” Yorko said. “We need to know … if that traumatic event happens … the steps that we need to take to be there for our community.”

Another new section of the plan concerns media relations: who may or may not talk to reporters during a crisis and how to respond to a reporter who asks a question of a school employee who is not permitted to answer.

The crisis manual also includes a list of emergency phone numbers, from the electric company to local news organizations.

Every teacher receives a digital copy of the crisis plan, and bound hard copies also will be made available.

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