Orange County Public Schools Preparedness Days Unite Principals, Emergency Managers

What started as Stop the Bleed and tourniquet training evolved into a two-day safety conference for school leaders and emergency management.

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Each year, Orange County Public Schools conducts a two-day conference, dubbed Preparedness Days, to train school leaders on emergency management and safety issues. However, this annual event started much smaller, the way many safety initiatives do.

Several years ago, the Florida school district was gifted tourniquets and Stop the Bleed kits from one of its hospital partners, Orlando Health (01:20). Over three days in the summer, Orlando Health helped train district principals on how to use the new supplies. The training quickly evolved into something more.

“We had the idea, ‘Hey, why don’t we do this every year and offer classes?’ We have some classes principals are required to take during the school year. Why don’t we offer that during the summer so they’re trained and ready to go for the school year?” Lou Alexis, OCPS’ Director of Emergency Management and a 2024 K-12 Campus Safety Director of the Year finalist, described the event’s evolution. “We were able to do that and it’s really something that cascaded to providing a small training to a semi-conference style event to where today we provide training from human trafficking to internet safety to mental health. We bring in — stakeholders — public safety, health department, and local emergency management agencies — and offer various training in addition to our standard training on active assailants, bomb threats, things like that.”

The event also provides opportunities for vendors, like those who source uniforms or school supplies, to sponsor the event and set up tabletops.

While Preparedness Days have grown from where they started, Orlando Health is still involved. This year, the second day of Preparedness Days will be a full-scale reunification exercise (03:57).

“One of the classes that they’re offering is reunification from a hospital perspective. For example, if an incident happened, you have folks that are injured or you have casualties, you have people rushing to the hospital to find loved ones. So what does that look like? What’s that process and how we can work together to help them identify kids?” Alexis described. “The parents that are visiting the hospital are actually the parents of that child or the individual that was impacted. So we have that partnership and they’re going to be talking to our school administrators about from their perspective, what reunification looks like, and how we can work together to make sure the process runs a lot smoother.”

The 2024 Campus Safety Director of the Year winners will be announced on July 10 at the Campus Safety Conference in Atlanta. All finalists will also be honored during the breakfast and award ceremony.

To register or see the full agenda, visit CampusSafetyConference.com.

Involving Nearby Districts in Emergency Preparedness

Over the years, word spread about Preparedness Days. Alexis has had other leaders reach out for advice, and his team have been asked to speak at conferences. Last year, school districts from Kentucky and Alabama observed the conference and asked questions about how to start a similar program (12:33).

“To start something like that from scratch, I think what I always tell them is they would have to come and experience Preparedness Days. We extend an invitation, have them come and experience it for themselves, and they can see if there’s value in it. That’s the best way I can tell to sell the program, is to come participate, see how it’s done, and then you see, hey, is this something that would be of value to your district? Is this something that we can use or maybe a modified of?” said Alexis. “It doesn’t have to be to the extent of what we’re doing because it didn’t start out that way. One of the things I would say, start small. It doesn’t have to be some elaborate thing. If they’re giving you one day or half a day, take half a day. If you can bring as many people together as possible, you start that way. Hey, you start out a half a day program where you have different speakers or it’s just internal, and then you build up on that, get the feedback, and try to build up on that way. That’s one avenue to go about doing it.”

During our interview, Alexis also shared:

  • Other ways administrators and emergency management staff interact throughout the school year (5:34)
  • How the district determines the content of Preparedness Days (8:59)
  • How the district involves students in school safety (10:54)

The full interview transcript is below.

Watch the full interview here or listen on the go on Apple or Spotify.

 


TRANSCRIPT

Amy Rock (00:57): Hi everyone. I’m here today with Lou Alexis, Director of Emergency Management for Orange County Public Schools in Florida, and also a 2024 Campus Safety Director of the Year finalists. And looking over the submission materials for your nomination, Lou, one unique initiative that your district has is Preparedness Days. Can you give a general overview of this event, what it consists of, and who was involved?

Lou Alexis (01:20): Absolutely. Thank you for the opportunity. Well, Preparedness Day started out with a gift that we actually received from one of our hospital partners, Orlando Health, and they provided us some tourniquets and Stop the Bleed kits. Then the mission was, well, how do we get all our principals together over the summer to actually train them?

Over the course of three days, we were able to get the principals to come out and Orlando Health provided the training. So the result of that was we also invited district departments to just table and provide information because principals, they’re out running schools all the time. They speak to folks in the district and they’ve never met. So it was an opportunity to put faces to names.

So it worked out well. We got some feedback. Then we had the ideas like, hey, you know, why don’t we do this every year and offer classes? So we have some classes that’s required for principals to take during the school year. It’s like, why don’t we offer that during the summer so they can have the opportunity to take it, get it over with, they’re trained, ready to go for the school year. So we were able to do that, and it’s really something that cascaded to providing a small training to a semi-conference style event to where today we provide training from human trafficking to internet safety to mental health. We bring in partners, public partners, and to offer various training in addition to our standard training on active assailant, bomb threats, and things like that.

And we also provide opportunities for sponsors to come and sponsor the event, table the event. A lot of sponsors that deal with schools, whether they provide uniforms or school supplies and things like that, so it’s a collaborative effort. We do involve a lot of our stakeholders — public safety, health department, local emergency management agencies. They’re all involved. We invite them to come in and train with our principals.

Amy Rock (03:57): And it started with the hospital partnership. Are they involved in these preparedness days still?

Lou Alexis (04:04): Yeah. As a matter of fact, this year for preparedness days this year, day two is going to be a full scale reunification exercise. So one of the classes that they’re offering is really reunification from a hospital perspective. So for example, if an incident happened, you have folks that are injured or you have casualties, you have people rushing to the hospital to find loved ones. So what does that look like? What’s that process and how we can work together to help them identify kids? The parents that are visiting the hospital are actually the parents of that child or the individual that was impacted. So we have that partnership and they’re going to be talking to our school administrators about from their perspective, what reunification looks like, and how we can work together to make sure the process runs a lot smoother.

Amy Rock (04:58): Yeah, we’ve seen, especially lately in some school tragedies, just parents descend upon it. Having some sort of organized chaos — it’s still going to be chaotic — but having communication is so important. And I think now, especially since Uvalde and how much they fumbled that, parents are more apt to run to a school even if it’s not something as severe as an active shooter.

I read that one of the focuses of these conferences is to give administrators, like you said, an opportunity to engage with the safety and emergency management team. Are there other interactions between these two groups throughout the year to ensure continuity and emergency planning? And if so, what do those interactions look like?

Lou Alexis (05:53): Sure, absolutely. So the way we structure is we have five emergency preparedness administrators, and their job is really to be out in the field, engaged with the principals all the time. So they’re actively engaged visiting schools. As a matter of fact, four days a week, that’s what they’re out doing. Visiting schools, doing checks, assisting principals with training. We monitor the legislative session to make sure any laws or any new requirements for either for drills or anything that may require us to develop a new training, that we stay on top of that and we develop those trainings and we go out there and execute the training.

So my staff is there at the schools constantly assisting with anything, from helping them assess safety features at the schools, pushing to get maintenance issues resolved, helping them lead some of their trainings — whether that’s active shooter training, bomb threat training, reunification training, what have you — evaluate those training, provide feedback, and provide feedback on anything from arrival and dismissals. We address that as well.

Severe weather in Florida, lightning’s a big issue for us, so training principals on the lightning detection softwares that we have and what the processes are to execute our emergency response capabilities. So it’s continuous support. We see it as a partnership and the principals, they really feel that they have support from the district by extension of having those folks out there interacting and engaging with them.

Part of their responsibilities also is to help with assessment. They’ll go to a school, make sure doors are locked, make sure doors are not propped open and things like that. So there’s always continuous engagement year-round with our school administrators.

Amy Rock (07:59): So you said you have five of those roles. How big is your district?

Lou Alexis (08:04): We’re the fourth largest in the state of Florida and eighth in the country. So we have over 200 schools, over 220,000 students. So each of our emergency preparedness are assigned a set of schools. For example, we have one that’s over high school and then two of them that’s splits middle school and the others, they split the elementary schools. And that’s in addition to our tech colleges. We have five campuses, and one of the things actually we’re expanding on, we’re developing a program for administrative sites. So that’s going to be in addition. So we got to look at our administrative sites, have them do drills and have them make sure they’re able to respond in an emergency as well. So that’s one of the areas that we’re expanding and that’s going to add to their portfolio of responsibilities.

Amy Rock (08:59): Do program offerings differ slightly year to year based on current events impacting schools or legislation in any given year? I know Florida has passed some legislation recently with Alyssa’s Law, for example.

Lou Alexis (09:13): Oh, absolutely. Because again, legislation is big. We monitor that. The legislative session just wrapped up because that’s going to really dictate a lot of posture moving into the next school year. Additionally, we look at what happened nationwide, any incidents that happen, any lessons learned, or we try to be proactive, stay ahead of the curve. Not only that, we look at social and economical issues as well.

One of the programs we looked at creating was something to educate students on preparedness and internet safety. So we created a bounce program that gears toward educating young kids on preparedness issues. From internet safety to walking home to summer safety, you name it. We created that throughout our bounce program.

But anything that’s happening, whether it’s at a school district or not, especially when it comes to things with active assailant, reunification, bomb threats, things like that, we look for ways to improve our training. We look for ways to bring in subject matter experts to not only train with us but review our trainings and processes and provide us feedback. So every year during the summit, it’s a busy time for us. As soon as the legislative session ends, we have preparedness days, and it’s also the time when we look at our suite of trainings and make changes and updates prior to the start of the school year,

Amy Rock (10:54): And you mentioned involving the kids, I think kids really appreciate being involved in the process of school safety. Before Parkland, no one really asked students what they thought or how they felt about school safety and what was important to them. And now I think they’re just being involved in the conversation so much more.

Lou Alexis (11:16): Right. And the way we came up with that whole bounce program concept was a survey because one of the things we thought is like, well, why don’t we survey the end users? We do all these drills. We do all these things that the kids are required to do. Why don’t we survey them and see how they actually feel about it? Is it useful? Or even get their recommendation and we were very surprised when you ask them, and some of them, there’s drill fatigue. They don’t take it serious. And so then that’s information that we can use to say, okay, what can we do to make them take the drill serious? What can we do to improve? Because they’re going through it, they’re going through the motion. So having their input on seeing how they’re receiving the drills, when we tell ’em, ‘Hey, a bomb threat, this is what’s going to happen for a severe weather drill. This is what you’re doing and here’s why it’s important that you follow these directions, why it’s important that we need you to listen to your teachers and administrators.’ It adds value to what we’re doing, and it makes, I think, in a way, probably gives them a little bit of ownership in what we’re doing.

Amy Rock (12:33): Now, you mentioned to me in an email exchange before this chat that you’ve had several districts come to watch while you conduct these prepared days. Can you speak to this a little bit more maybe about the benefits of both the visiting districts and your districts, and have any of the districts adopted the programs, anything like that?

Lou Alexis (12:53): Sure. Absolutely. So when we started preparedness days, we didn’t envision that it would be what it is today. The last couple of years have been exciting. It started with us posting on social media on LinkedIn where staff would post about preparedness days, and then we started speaking at the conferences and just talk about our overall program, emergency management, and how we execute that in the K-12 space. And there’s been a lot of interest, and we talk about preparedness days, and lo and behold, people, they were interested like, ‘Hey, can we come and see what this is all about? How do you get all these principals to actually show up on a volunteer basis?’ Because we don’t require them to attend but we have over 80% participation from our principals, which is amazing. It really is to offer something voluntary where they come two days over the summer for them to come and take this training, to take the training and be part of the exercises.

I mean, it’s an amazing accomplishment. But again, a lot of the schools, what we have had is we’ve had school districts inquire. I’ve had requests to present to school administration about the preparedness days. I’ve had emails and calls to participate on conference calls to explain how the program came to be. Last year, we had school districts from Kentucky and Alabama come and spent time with us to see what preparedness days were all about. They asked for questions about funding structure and so forth.

But again, the challenge with putting something like that together is leadership. You have to first sell it to your superintendent or the individual cabinet member, whoever runs the school district, to see if that’s something they would even support. So for us though, it worked out. We took advantage of a donation that was given to us and we saw that as an opportunity.

But to start something like that from scratch, I think what I always tell them is for them, they would have to come and experience preparedness days. I say we extend an invitation, have them come and experience it for themselves, and they can see if there’s something, if there’s value in it. That’s the best way I can tell to sell the program, is to come participate, see how it’s done, and then you see, hey, is this something that would be of value to your district? Is this something that we can use or maybe a modified of?

It doesn’t have to be to the extent of what we’re doing because it didn’t start out that way. One of the things I would say, start small. It doesn’t have to be some elaborate thing. If they’re giving you one day or half a day, take half a day. If you can bring as many people together as possible, you start that way. Hey, you start out a half a day program where you have different speakers or it’s just internal, and then you build up on that, get the feedback, and try to build up on that way. That’s one avenue to go about doing it.

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About the Author

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Amy is Campus Safety’s Executive Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy has many close relatives and friends who are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.

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