Press Release - Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Governor Blagojevich signs new law to make schools safer
SPRINGFIELD - Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today signed the School Safety Drill Act that will help keep students, teachers and faculty safer when they're at school. House Bill 2693 significantly improves school emergency preparedness by, for the first time, setting clear, minimum requirements and standards for public and private school emergency planning. The new law also ensures that school officials work more closely with local first responders.
"When parents send their children off to school, they deserve to know their kids are safe. This new law requires that all of our schools are properly prepared to handle emergency situations," said Gov. Blagojevich. "By setting requirements for emergency planning, students, teachers and staff will know what to do if a real emergency happens at their school."
Last October, Gov. Blagojevich announced school security initiatives aimed at providing better protection for the state's school children during emergencies. The Governor directed the Illinois Terrorism Task Force (ITTF), the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and the Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM) to work with schools and first responders to refine the maze of fire and tornado drill statutes and regulations and ensure that school drills effectively address the hazards facing schools in today's world.
Under the Governor's leadership, the ITTF, ISBE and OSFM brought together a group of organizations to write legislation that establishes minimum requirements and standards for public and private schools to follow in emergency and crisis response plans. Groups that worked to develop the legislation include the Illinois Principals Association (IPA), the Illinois Fire Services Association (IFSA), the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association (IFCA), Illinois Fire Safety Alliance (IFSA), the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS), the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the Illinois Education Association (IEA), the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents (IARS), the Illinois Emergency Services Management Association (IESMA), and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA).
"School safety plans are critical to school safety, but they need to be reviewed and revised regularly to ensure that they adequately address the safety issues facing the school," said ITTF Chairman Mike Chamness. "Under the new School Safety Drill Act, school officials have guidance on what kinds of drills and how many they need to conduct, and that these plans need to be reviewed annually."
House Bill 2693, sponsored by Representative Michael Smith (D-Canton) and Senator Arthur Wilhelmi (D-Aurora), helps schools and first responders better understand the requirements for conducting safety drills by consolidating seven different statutes and related regulations. Until now, depending on which regulations school officials referenced, schools may have been required to participate in anywhere from three to 10 fire drills, two bus evacuation drills and an undefined number of tornado drills - as many as six to 13 or more drills per year.
The new School Safety Drill Act eliminates that confusion by requiring that each school conduct a minimum of five drills each year, including a minimum of:
- three fire drills, with one requiring the participation of local fire departments
- one bus evacuation drill
- one tornado drill
The new act also strongly encourages schools to conduct one drill in coordination with local law enforcement agencies to focus on law enforcement issues, such as shootings and bomb threats. Such drills should provide instruction on incidents such as lock-downs, shootings, bomb threats and hazardous materials.
"This new law helps schools and first responders work together for the safety of students in Illinois schools," said Randy Dunn, State Superintendent of Education. "Schools now have clear guidance on the drills they should be doing and on steps to prepare for all kinds of emergency situations."
The School Safety Drill Act also ensures that school officials and first responders meet once a year to review emergency response and drill plans. Schools will then submit a check-off document to ISBE and OSFM that summarizes their review and goals for the coming year.
"When a real emergency occurs, school officials need to work closely with their local first responders," said State Fire Marshal J.T. Somer. "That's why we believe it is very important that schools work with their local fire departments at least once a year to get feedback and build these relationships before a real event."
"This legislation is about providing the highest quality of safety for our students and those working at our schools," Senator Wilhelmi said. "I think all parents agree that a comprehensive emergency plan will help protect our children."
A common set of rules will be developed by ISBE, OSFM, education officials, first responders and emergency management officials to assist schools in complying with the new provisions.