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Testimony: 

Before the Committee on Homeland Security, House of Representatives: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

GAO: 

For Release on Delivery Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT: 

Thursday, May 17, 2007: 

Emergency Management: 

Status of School Districts' Planning and Preparedness: 

Statement of Cornelia M. Ashby, Director: 
Education, Workforce, and Income Security: 

GAO-07-821T: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-07-821T, a testimony before the Committee on Homeland 
Security, House of Representatives 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

Events such as the recent shootings by armed intruders in schools 
across the nation, natural disasters, the terrorist attacks of 
September 11, 2001, and potential pandemics have heightened awareness 
for the need for school districts to be prepared to address a range of 
emergencies within and outside of schools buildings. Congress has 
raised concerns over school preparedness, with a particular interest in 
how federal agencies provide assistance to school districts. 

This testimony discusses preliminary findings related to GAOs review 
of emergency management in school districts, including (1) the roles of 
federal and state governments in establishing requirements and 
providing resources to school districts for emergency management 
planning, (2) what school districts have done to plan and prepare for 
emergencies, and (3) the challenges school districts have experienced 
in planning for emergencies, and communicating and coordinating with 
first responders, parents, and students. 

To obtain this information, GAO interviewed federal officials, surveyed 
a stratified random sample of all public school districts, surveyed 
state agencies that administer federal grants that can be used for 
school emergency management planning, conducted site visits to school 
districts, and reviewed relevant documents. 

What GAO Found: 

Federal and state governments have a role in supporting emergency 
management in school districts. While no federal laws require school 
districts to have emergency management plans, 32 states reported having 
laws or policies requiring school districts to have such plans. The 
Departments of Education and Homeland Security (DHS) provide funding 
for emergency management planning in schools. However, some DHS program 
guidance, for specific grants, does not clearly identify school 
districts as entities to which state and local governments may disburse 
grant funds. Thus, states receiving this funding may be uncertain as to 
whether such funding can be allocated to school districts or schools 
and therefore may not have the opportunity to benefit from this 
funding. States also provide funding and other resources to school 
districts to assist them in planning for emergencies. School districts 
have taken steps to plan for a range of emergencies, as most have 
developed multi-hazard emergency management plans; however some plans 
and activities do not address federally recommended practices. For 
example, based on GAOs survey of a sample of public school districts, 
an estimated 56 percent of all school districts have not employed any 
procedures in their plans for continuing student education in the event 
of an extended school closure, such as might occur during a pandemic, 
and many do not include procedures for special needs students. Fewer 
than half of districts with emergency plans involve community partners 
when developing and updating these plans. Finally, school districts are 
generally not training with first responders or community partners on 
how to implement their school district emergency plans. 

Figure: Estimated Percentages of urban and Rural Districts' Multi-
Hazard Emergency Management Plans that Include Specific Types of 
incidents: 

[see PDF for Image] 

Source: GAO analysis of survey data. 

[A] Differences between urban and rural districts are not statistically 
significant. 

[End of figure] 

Many school district officials said that they experience challenges in 
planning for emergencies and some school districts face difficulties in 
communicating and coordinating with first responders and parents, but 
most said that they do not experience challenges in communicating with 
students. For example, in an estimated 62 percent of districts, 
officials identified challenges stemming from a lack of equipment, 
training for staff, and personnel with expertise in the area of 
emergency planning as obstacles to implementing recommended practices. 

[Hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-07-821T]. 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
the link above. For more information, contact Cornelia Ashby at (202) 
512-7215 or ashbyc@gao.gov. 

[End of section] 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee: 

I am pleased to be here today to discuss emergency management in public 
school districts. The nation's more than 17,000 school districts are 
responsible for maintaining the safety and security of approximately 49 
million public school students. Events such as the recent shootings by 
armed intruders in schools across the nation, natural disasters such as 
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the terrorist attacks of September 
11, 2001, and potential pandemics have heightened awareness of the need 
for school districts to be prepared to address a range of emergencies 
within and outside of school buildings. 

My testimony today is drawn from ongoing work we have conducted for 
this Committee and other congressional requesters on emergency 
management in school districts. We anticipate completing the report in 
June 2007. "Emergency management" refers to the range of efforts 
involved in building the capacity to prevent, protect against, respond 
to, and recover from an incident. Planning for such incidents varies by 
the type and scale of the incident. The federal government's role in 
emergency management is principally to support state and local 
activities and develop the federal capabilities to respond effectively 
when state and local governments require federal assistance. Some 
federal support comes in the form of guidance and recommendations. 
Because the federal government serves as a partner to all states, it is 
uniquely positioned to observe and evaluate the range of emergency 
management activities across states and local governments, including 
school districts, and disseminate information on recommended practices 
and successful strategies. 

My testimony today will focus on (1) the role of the federal and state 
governments in establishing requirements and providing resources to 
school districts for emergency management planning, (2) what school 
districts have done to plan and prepare for emergencies, and, briefly, 
(3) the challenges school districts have experienced in planning for 
emergencies and communicating and coordinating with first responders, 
parents, and students. When discussing the federal government, I am 
primarily referring to the three agencies included in our report--the 
Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Education (Education), and 
Health and Human Services (HHS). 

To determine the role of the federal and state governments, planning 
requirements for school districts and schools, and the types of 
resources provided to districts, we conducted interviews with officials 
representing DHS, Education, and HHS and reviewed relevant federal 
laws. We also administered two surveys, one to state education agencies 
and one to state administering agencies (the state agencies to which 
DHS disburses emergency management funding) in all 50 states and the 
District of Columbia. To better understand how school districts plan 
and prepare for emergencies, we administered a mail survey to a 
stratified random sample of school districts in the 50 states and the 
District of Columbia. Using a 95 percent confidence interval, all 
percentage estimates included in this statement have a margin of error 
of plus or minus 10 percent or less, unless otherwise noted. To further 
understand the experiences districts have had in planning for 
emergencies and communicating and coordinating with first 
responders[Footnote 1], parents, and students, we visited selected 
districts in the states of Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, North 
Carolina, Ohio, and Washington. In total, we conducted semi-structured 
interviews, either in person or by telephone, with officials in 27 
school districts. We are conducting the review in accordance with 
generally accepted government auditing standards. 

In summary, federal and state governments support emergency management 
in school districts with a range of resources and most school districts 
have developed emergency management plans despite facing challenges; 
however not all of these plans incorporate recommended practices. 
Federal and state governments provide funding, guidance, training, and 
equipment; and many states require school districts to develop 
emergency management plans or engage in other planning activities. 
However, funding guidance for some federal grant programs does not 
clearly identify school districts as entities to which state and local 
governments may disburse these grant funds. Therefore, some states 
receiving this funding may be uncertain as to whether such funding can 
be allocated to school districts or schools; and as a result, school 
districts may not have the opportunity to benefit from this funding. At 
the local level, school districts have taken a number of important 
steps to plan for a range of emergencies, most notably developing 
emergency management plans; however, in many districts these plans, or 
their implementation, do not align with federally recommended 
practices. For example, many school districts do not include procedures 
for special needs students in their plans and many districts have not 
employed any procedures in their plans for continuing student education 
in the event of an extended school closure, such as might occur during 
a pandemic. Additionally, school districts are generally not training 
with their first responders (i.e., law enforcement, fire, and Emergency 
Medical Services [EMS]) and community partners (such as the local head 
of government and local public health agency), which are both federally 
recommended practices. Finally, many school district officials said 
that they experience challenges in planning for emergencies due to a 
lack of equipment, training for staff, and expertise and some school 
districts face difficulties in communicating and coordinating with 
first responders and parents, but most said that they do not experience 
challenges in communicating emergency procedures to students. We are 
currently considering recommendations that federal agencies clarify and 
improve guidance to states and school districts to better enable school 
districts to incorporate recommended practices for emergency 
management. 

Background: 

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 created DHS and consolidated most of 
the federal programs and agencies with responsibilities for emergency 
management into that agency.[Footnote 2] DHS serves as a federal 
partner to state and local governments in emergency 
management.[Footnote 3] DHS provides technical assistance and homeland 
security grant funding to states and local governments to enhance their 
emergency management efforts. States and local governments have the 
responsibility for spending DHS grant funds in accordance with DHS 
guidelines to meet local emergency management needs. In fiscal year 
2006, DHS awarded $1.7 billion to states, urban areas, and territories 
to prepare for and respond to terrorist attacks and other disasters. 
States and local governments may then provide a portion of this funding 
to a range of entities, as specified in DHS's program guidance. 

As we have noted in prior reports, emergency management requires 
coordinated planning and implementation by a variety of participants. 
Effective emergency management requires identifying the hazards for 
which it is necessary to be prepared (risk assessments); establishing 
clear roles and responsibilities that are effectively communicated and 
well understood; and developing, maintaining, and mobilizing needed 
capabilities, such as people, skills, and equipment.[Footnote 4] The 
plans and capabilities should be tested and assessed through realistic 
exercises that identify strengths and areas that need improvement, with 
any needed changes made to both plans and capabilities. 

The hazards that school districts may face will vary across the country 
depending upon the natural hazards to which their particular areas are 
prone and an assessment of other risks for which they need to be 
prepared, such as pandemic influenza or the discharge of hazardous 
substances from nearby chemical or nuclear plants. Similarly, who 
should be involved in emergency planning and response for schools, and 
the roles of the various participants will vary by type and size of the 
emergency incident. For large-scale emergencies, effective response is 
likely to involve all levels of government--federal, state, and local-
-nongovernment entities, such as the Red Cross, and the private sector. 

Federal and State Governments Provide Resources to School Districts for 
Emergency Management Planning, While Only States Have Laws that Require 
School Emergency Management Planning: 

Although no federal laws exist requiring school districts to have 
emergency management plans, most states reported having requirements 
for school emergency management planning; however, the federal 
government, along with states, provides financial and other resources 
for such planning. Education, DHS, and state governments provide 
funding for emergency management planning in schools. However, DHS 
program guidance does not clearly identify school districts as entities 
to which states and local governments may disburse grant funds. Not all 
states receiving DHS funding are aware that such funding could be 
disbursed to school districts. In addition to providing funding, the 
federal government assists school districts and schools in emergency 
management planning by providing other resources such as guidance, 
training, and equipment. 

Although No Federal Laws Exist Requiring School District Emergency 
Management Planning, the Majority of States Have Requirements: 

Although there are no federal laws requiring school districts to have 
emergency management plans, many states reported having laws or other 
policies that do so. Congress has not enacted any broadly applicable 
laws requiring all school districts to have emergency management plans. 
While the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 provides that local 
education agencies (LEAs or school districts) applying for subgrants 
under the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Program include in 
their grant applications an assurance that either they or their schools 
have "a plan for keeping schools safe and drug-free that includes.a 
crisis management plan for responding to violent or traumatic incidents 
on school grounds", Education has not issued any regulations imposing 
such a requirement on all school districts.[Footnote 5] However, 32 of 
the states responding to our survey of state administering agencies and 
state education agencies reported having laws or other policies 
requiring school districts or schools to have a written emergency 
management plan (see fig. 1). Several state laws identify a broad range 
of specific emergencies that schools or districts are required to 
address in their plans, while many other states do not identify 
particular kinds of crises or use more general language to refer to the 
kinds of emergencies that plans must incorporate. 

Figure 1: States That Reported Having Laws or Other Policies Requiring 
School Districts or Schools to Have Emergency Management Plans: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO analysis of survey data. 

[End of figure] 

Federal Agencies and States Provide Funding for School Districts' 
Emergency Management Planning: 

Education and DHS provided some funding to school districts for 
emergency management. Education provides funding to some school 
districts specifically for emergency management planning through its 
Emergency Response and Crisis Management (ERCM) Grant Program.[Footnote 
6] Since fiscal year 2003, Education dispersed $130 million in such 
grants to over 400 of the over 17,000[Footnote 7] school districts in 
the United States. These grant awards ranged from $68,875 to 
$1,365,087. 

DHS provides funding to states and local jurisdictions for emergency 
management planning, some of which can be provided to school districts 
or schools for emergency management planning. DHS officials told us 
that such funds are available through the State Homeland Security 
Program, Urban Areas Security Initiative, and Citizen Corps 
grants.[Footnote 8] Five states--Florida, Hawaii, Michigan, 
Mississippi, and Wyoming--reported that they provided approximately $14 
million in DHS funding directly to school districts in these states 
during fiscal years 2003-2006. In addition, eight states and the 
District of Columbia reported that they provided DHS funding to local 
jurisdictions that then provided a portion of these funds to school 
districts or schools for emergency management planning.[Footnote 9] 

Although DHS officials told us that these three grant programs allow 
for the use of funds at the district or school level, the department's 
program guidance does not clearly specify that school districts are 
among the entities to which state and local governments may disburse 
funds.[Footnote 10] As a result, some states may not be aware of their 
availability. 

State governments also provide state funds to school districts. Eleven 
of the 49 states[Footnote 11] responding to surveys we sent to state 
education and state administering agencies reported providing state 
funding to school districts for emergency management planning. 

Federal Agencies and States Provide Guidance, Training, and Equipment 
for Emergency Management in School Districts: 

The federal government also provides guidance, training, and equipment 
to school districts to assist in emergency management planning (see 
table 1). 

Table 1: Examples of Guidance, Training, and Equipment the Federal 
Government Provides to School Districts: 

Examples of guidance: 
* Education publishes a guide for schools and communities titled 
Practical Information on Crisis Planning, which explains, among other 
things, how schools can prepare for an emergency; 
* DHS created a Web site, How Schools Can Become More Disaster 
Resistant, that provides guidance for teachers and parents regarding 
how to prepare emergency management plans. The site also discusses 
identifying and mitigating hazards, developing response and coping 
plans, and implementing safety drills. 

Examples of training: 
* The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), within DHS, offers on-
line courses including one on emergency management planning for 
schools; 
* Education offers two 1- day Emergency Management for Schools 
training sessions that provide school personnel with critical training 
on emergency management issues, resources, and practices. Emphasis for 
these trainings is placed on emergency management plan development and 
enhancement within the framework of four phases of emergency 
management: prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response, and 
recovery. 

Examples of equipment: 
* With funding from DHS and support from Education, the Department of 
Commerce's National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 
distributed 96,000 NOAA radios to almost all public schools in the 
United States in 2005 and 2006. These radios are intended to notify 
school officials of hazards in their area 24 hours a day/7 days a week, 
even when other means of communication are disabled.[A]. 

Source: Education, DHS, and HHS. 

[A] Schools receiving NOAA radios included those in six states that, 
according to DHS, mandate that public schools have radios. These states 
are Washington, Tennessee, North Carolina, Maryland, Florida, and 
Mississippi. DHS told us that they have procedures in place to allow a 
school to request a radio if it did not receive one. DHS officials also 
told us that they plan to distribute NOAA radios to non-public schools 
(private, independent, and parochial and other faith-based 
institutions), postsecondary education facilities, and district offices 
in 2007. 

[End of table] 

Education, DHS, and HHS have collaborated and developed recommended 
practices to assist in preparing for emergencies that can be applied to 
school districts.[Footnote 12] Some of these practices are shown in 
table 2. 

Table 2: Selected Practices that Education, DHS, and HHS Recommend 
School Districts Take to Prepare for Emergencies: 

Recommended practices: 
* Allocate time to emergency management planning; 
* Conduct an assessment of vulnerabilities; 
* Conduct regular drills; 
* Identify and acquire equipment to mitigate and respond to 
emergencies; 
* Identify a storage location and replenish emergency supplies on a 
regular basis; 
* Develop an emergency management plan and update the plan on a regular 
basis. In developing and updating this plan, school districts should: 
- Identify and address a range of events and hazards specific to the 
district or schools; 
- Develop roles and responsibilities and procedures for school 
community members; 
- Develop roles and responsibilities for first responders and community 
partners; 
- Develop procedures for communicating with key stakeholders such as 
parents and students, including those who are limited-English 
proficient; 
- Develop procedures for special needs students; 
- Develop procedures in the plan for recovering from an incident, 
including continuing student education during an extended school 
closure; 
- Determine lessons learned after an incident or training; 
- Develop multi-purpose manuals, with emergency management information, 
that can be tailored to meet individual school needs; 
* Include community partners such as local government and public health 
agencies in planning; 
* Coordinate the school district's emergency procedures with state and 
local governments; 
* Practice the emergency management plan with first responders and 
community partners on a regular basis. 

Source: GAO analysis of Education, DHS, and HHS guidance and training 
documents. 

[End of table] 

The type of guidance available from the federal government on topics 
related to these recommended practices varies significantly; in some 
instances, federal agencies provide detailed instructions on how to 
implement recommended practices while, in other instances, guidance is 
less detailed. 

We have also recognized the importance of certain of these practices in 
our prior reports on emergency management.[Footnote 13] We have noted 
the importance of realistic training exercises followed by a careful 
assessment of those exercises. Those with whom the school districts 
should coordinate and train will vary by the type and size of the 
emergency. For example, for a potential pandemic flu or other major 
infectious outbreak, planning and working with local health authorities 
is critical. 

In addition to the federal government, states provide guidance and 
training to school districts. Based on our survey of state 
administrative agencies and state education agencies, 47 states 
reported providing guidance and 37 states reported providing training. 
Some states also reported providing online resources that include 
guidance and training. 

Most Districts Have Taken Steps to Prepare for Emergencies, but Some 
Plans and Activities Do Not Address Recommended Practices: 

Almost all school districts have taken steps to prepare for 
emergencies, including developing written plans, but some plans do not 
address federally recommended practices such as establishing procedures 
for special needs students and procedures for continued student 
education in the event of an extended closure. Additionally, many 
school districts do not have procedures for training regularly with 
first responders and community partners. 

Most School Districts Have Undertaken Some Emergency Management 
Activities: 

Many school districts, those with and without emergency management 
plans, have undertaken activities to prepare for emergencies. Based on 
our survey of school districts, we estimate that 93 percent of all 
school districts conduct inspections of their school buildings and 
grounds to identify possible vulnerabilities in accordance with 
recommended practices. Of those school districts, 87 percent made 
security enhancements to their school facilities and grounds as a 
result of these inspections. Security enhancements included adding or 
enhancing equipment to communicate with school employees, strengthening 
the perimeter security of the school, and enhancing access controls. 

In addition to conducting vulnerability assessments, many school 
districts carry out a number of other activities to prepare for 
emergencies such as conducting some type of school drill or exercise 
and maintaining a storage location for and replenishing emergency 
supplies such as food, water, and first-aid supplies, as recommended. 
Additionally, school districts took responsibility for a number of 
activities to prepare for emergencies at the district level such as 
negotiating the use of school buildings as community shelters and 
identifying security needs in schools. These activities can vary by 
locality depending on community needs and include oversight, 
coordination with other entities, and training. 

Most Districts Have Emergency Management Plans That Address Multiple 
Hazards, but the Content of Plans Varies Significantly: 

Most school districts have developed written emergency management plans 
that address multiple hazards. Based on our survey of school districts, 
we estimate that 95 percent of all school districts have written 
emergency management plans with no statistical difference between urban 
and rural districts.[Footnote 14] Of those school districts that have 
written emergency plans, nearly all (99.6 percent) address multiple 
hazards in accordance with recommended practices to prepare for 
emergencies. However, the specific hazards addressed by plans vary. 
(See fig. 2.) In some instances, the hazards included in emergency 
plans are specific to local conditions, which is to be expected. 

Figure 2: Estimated Percentages of Urban and Rural Districts' Multi- 
Hazard Emergency Management Plans that Include Specific Types of 
Incidents: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO analysis of survey data. 

[A] Differences between urban and rural districts are not statistically 
significant. 

[End of figure] 

The extent to which school districts' emergency management plans and 
planning activities are consistent with other recommended practices 
varies: 

Develop Roles and Responsibilities for School Community Members. Based 
on our survey of school districts, most districts have written roles 
and responsibilities in their plans for staff such as superintendents, 
building engineers or custodians, principals, teachers, and nurses. 

Develop Roles and Responsibilities for First Responders and Community 
Partners. Based on our survey, we estimate that 43 percent of school 
districts use the Incident Command System (ICS) established by DHS as 
part of the National Incident Management System (NIMS)[Footnote 15] to 
establish the roles and responsibilities of school district officials, 
local first responders, and community partners during an emergency, in 
accordance with recommended practices. 

Develop Procedures for Communicating with Key Stakeholders. Central to 
district emergency plans is the inclusion of procedures for 
communicating with key stakeholders such as staff, parents, and 
students, including those who are Limited-English Proficient. Our 
survey finds that roughly three-quarters of all school districts have 
not included written procedures in their plans for communicating with 
Limited-English Proficient parents and students, in accordance with 
federally recommended practices. 

Develop Procedures for Special Needs Students. Although the number of 
special needs students in the schools is growing, our survey finds that 
an estimated 28 percent of school districts with emergency management 
plans do not have specific provisions for them in their emergency 
management plans. Education officials told us that because there is no 
agreement among disability groups on what the best practices are for 
special needs students in an emergency, districts usually devise their 
own procedures. According to these officials, some of these procedures 
such as keeping special needs students in their classrooms during some 
emergencies may not ensure the students' safety in an emergency. 

Develop Procedures for Recovering from an Incident. Over half of all 
school districts with written emergency plans include procedures in 
their plans to assist with recovering from an incident, in accordance 
with recommended practices. School districts' plans include such 
procedures as providing on-site trauma teams, restoring district 
administrative functions, and conducting assessments of damage to 
school buildings and grounds. 

Develop Procedures for the Continuation of Student Education. Few 
school districts' emergency plans contain procedures for continuing 
student education in the event of an extended school closure, such as a 
pandemic outbreak, although it is a federally recommended practice. 
Based on our survey, we estimate that 56 percent of school districts do 
not include any of the following procedures (see table 3) in their 
plans for the continuation of student education during an extended 
school closure. Without such procedures school districts may not be 
able to educate students during a school closure that could last from 
several days to a year or longer. 

Table 3: Percentages of School Districts with Written Plans that 
Include Certain Types of Procedures to Continue Student Educational 
Instruction in the Event of an Extended School Closure: 

Types of procedure to continue student educational instruction: 
Electronic or human telephone trees to communicate academic information 
to students; 
Estimated percentage of school districts with written plans that 
include procedure: 30. 

Types of procedure to continue student educational instruction: Web- 
based distance instruction; 
Estimated percentage of school districts with written plans that 
include procedure: 12. 

Types of procedure to continue student educational instruction: Mailed 
lessons and assignments; 
Estimated percentage of school districts with written plans that 
include procedure: 10. 

Types of procedure to continue student educational instruction: 
Academic instruction via local radio or television stations; 
Estimated percentage of school districts with written plans that 
include procedure: 7. 

Source: GAO analysis of survey data. 

Note: Responses are not mutually exclusive. 

[End of table] 

Determine Lessons Learned. Based on our survey of school districts, we 
estimate that 38 percent of districts have emergency management plans 
that contain procedures for reviewing lessons learned to analyze how 
well the plans worked in responding to a drill or emergency. Of the 
remaining school districts, 53 percent indicated they have procedures 
but those procedures are not included in their plans and 7 percent have 
no such procedures. 

Develop Multi-Purpose Manuals. Some school districts have multi-purpose 
manuals that contain various types of information such as roles and 
responsibilities for staff, descriptions of how to respond to different 
types of emergencies, as well as site specific information for 
individual schools to complete in order to tailor their plan. In 
contrast, other districts provide less information. For example, one 
district's plan consisted of a flipchart with contact information on 
whom to call during an emergency. 

Involve Local Government and Public Heath Agencies in Developing and 
Updating Plans. School districts differed in the extent to which they 
involve community partners in the development and updating of their 
plans.[Footnote 16] Fewer than half of school districts with emergency 
management plans involve community partners such as the local head of 
government (43 percent) or the local public health agency (42 percent) 
when developing and updating their emergency management plans, as 
recommended by HHS.[Footnote 17] According to written guidance provided 
by Education, those school districts that do not include community 
partners in the development and updating of their plans may limit their 
opportunity to exchange information with local officials, take 
advantage of local resources, and identify gaps in their plan. More 
than half (52 percent) of all school districts with emergency 
management plans report regularly (i.e., at least once a year) updating 
their emergency management plans in accordance with recommended 
practices. However, 10 percent of all school districts had never 
updated their plans. 

Train with First Responders. Based on our survey, we estimate that 27 
percent of all school districts with emergency management plans have 
never trained with any first responders on how to implement the plans, 
in accordance with federally recommended practices. The reasons why 
school districts are not training with first responders are not readily 
apparent. As we have previously reported, involving first responder 
groups in training and exercise programs can better familiarize first 
responders with and prepare first responders for their roles in an 
emergency as well as assess the effectiveness of a school or district 
emergency plan.[Footnote 18] 

Train with Community Partners. School districts report training with 
community partners such as local government and local public health 
entities on activities to prepare for an emergency with similar 
frequency. Specifically, we estimate that 29 percent of all school 
districts train with community partners. As with first responders, the 
reasons for the lack of training with community partners are not 
readily apparent. In our work on Hurricane Katrina, we reported that 
involving local community partners in exercise programs and training 
could help prepare community partners and enhance their understanding 
of their roles in an emergency as well as help assess the effectiveness 
of a school districts' emergency plan.[Footnote 19] Without such 
training, school districts and their community partners may not fully 
understand their roles and responsibilities and could be at risk of not 
responding effectively during a school emergency. 

School Districts Report Challenges in Planning for Emergencies and 
Difficulties in Communicating with First Responders and Parents: 

In planning for emergencies, many school districts face challenges 
resulting from competing priorities, a lack of equipment, and limited 
expertise; some school districts experience difficulties in 
communicating and coordinating with first responders and parents, but 
most do not have such challenges with students. 

Competing Priorities, Lack of Equipment, and Limited Expertise Are 
Obstacles to Incorporating Recommended Practices in Emergency 
Management Planning: 

School district officials who responded to our survey reported 
difficulty in following the recommended practice of allocating time to 
emergency management planning, given the higher priority and competing 
demand on their time for educating students and carrying out other 
administrative responsibilities. Based on our survey of school 
districts, we estimate that in 70 percent of all districts, officials 
consider competing priorities to be a challenge to planning for 
emergencies. 

In an estimated 62 percent of districts, officials cited a lack of 
equipment and expertise as impediments to emergency planning. For 
example, officials in one Massachusetts school district we visited 
reported that they do not have adequate locks on some of the doors to 
school buildings to implement a lockdown procedure. In a North Carolina 
district we visited, officials said a lack of two-way radios for staff 
in the elementary schools hinders their ability to communicate with one 
another and with first responders during an emergency.[Footnote 20] As 
demonstrated in these school districts, the lack of equipment would 
prevent districts from implementing the procedures in their plans and 
hinder communication among district staff and with first responders 
during emergencies. In addition to not having sufficient equipment, 
school district officials we spoke with described a shortage of 
expertise in both planning for and managing emergencies. These 
officials said their districts lacked specialized personnel and 
training with which to develop needed expertise. For example, district 
officials in 5 of the 27 districts we interviewed noted that they do 
not have sufficient funding to hire full-time emergency management 
staff to provide such training or take responsibility for updating 
their district plans. These officials noted that the lack of expertise 
makes it difficult to adequately plan for responding to emergencies. 

School districts we interviewed also reported challenges in 
incorporating special needs students in emergency management planning. 
According to officials in about half (13 of 27) of the districts in 
which we conducted interviews, a lack of equipment or expertise poses 
challenges for districts--particularly in the area of evacuating 
special needs students. For example, an official in one school 
district, said that the district tracks the location of special needs 
students, but many of the district's schools do not have evacuation 
equipment (e.g., evacuation chairs used to transport disabled persons 
down a flight of stairs) to remove students from buildings and staff 
need more training on how to operate the existing equipment: 

Some School Districts Reported Difficulty in Communicating and 
Coordinating with First Responders: 

Based on our survey of school districts, an estimated 39 percent of 
districts with emergency plans experience challenges in communicating 
and coordinating with local first responders.[Footnote 21] 
Specifically, these school districts experience a lack of partnerships 
with all or specific first responders, limited time or funding to 
collaborate with first responders on plans for emergencies, or a lack 
of interoperability between the equipment used by the school district 
and equipment used by first responders. For example, the superintendent 
of a Washington school district we visited said that law enforcement 
has not been responsive to the district's requests to participate in 
emergency drills, and, in addition to never having had a districtwide 
drill with first responders, competition among city, county, and 
private first responders has made it difficult for the school district 
to know with which first responder entity it should coordinate. 
According to guidance provided by Education, the lack of partnerships, 
as demonstrated in these school districts, can lead to an absence of 
training that prevents schools and first responders from understanding 
their roles and responsibilities during emergencies. Additionally, in 8 
of the 27 districts we interviewed, officials said that the two-way 
radios or other equipment used in their school districts lacked 
interoperability with the radios used by first responders.[Footnote 22] 

School Districts Have Methods to Communicate With Parents, but Face 
Challenges in Ensuring Parents Receive Consistent Information during 
Incidents: 

In keeping with recommended practices that call for school districts to 
have a way to contact parents of students enrolled in the district, all 
of the 27 school districts we interviewed had ways of communicating 
emergency procedures to parents prior to (e.g., newsletters), during 
(e.g., media, telephone), and after an incident (e.g., letters). Eleven 
of these districts have a system that can send instant electronic and 
telephone messages to parents of students in the district. Despite 
having these methods, 16 of the 27 districts we interviewed experience 
difficulties in implementing the recommended practice that school 
districts communicate clear, consistent, and appropriate information to 
parents regarding an emergency. For example, officials in a Florida 
school district said that with students' increased access to cellular 
telephones, parents often arrive on school grounds during an incident 
to pick up their children before the district has an opportunity to 
provide parents with information. Thus, according to these officials, 
the district experiences challenges in simultaneously maintaining 
control of both the emergency situation and access to school grounds by 
parents and others. Representatives of three education 
associations[Footnote 23] also noted that school districts have much to 
do to ensure that their emergency management efforts diffuse confusion 
during emergencies and provide parents with consistent information. 

Based on our survey of school districts, an estimated 39 percent of all 
school districts provide translators to communicate with Limited- 
English Proficient parents during emergencies, but fewer--an estimated 
23 percent of all districts--provide translations of emergency 
management materials. Officials in eight of the 27 districts we 
interviewed discussed challenges in retaining bilingual staff to 
conduct translations of the districts' messages or in reaching parents 
who do not speak the languages or dialects the district translates. Our 
findings, are consistent with the observations of some national 
education groups that have indicated that districts, in part due to 
limited funding, struggle to effectively communicate emergency-related 
information to this population of parents. 

Officials in all but one of the districts in which we conducted 
interviews said that the district did not have problems communicating 
emergency procedures to students. While some of these officials did not 
provide reasons; as we previously discussed, most districts regularly 
practice their emergency management plans with their students and 
staff. 

Concluding Observations: 

The federal government plays a critical role in assisting school 
districts to prepare for emergencies by providing funding, giving 
states flexibility to target federal funding for emergency management 
to areas of greatest need, disseminating information on best practices 
and other guidance, and providing training and equipment. School 
districts have taken a number of important steps to plan for a range of 
emergencies, most notably developing emergency management plans; 
however, in many districts these plans or their implementation do not 
align with federally recommended practices. Given the challenges many 
school districts face due to a lack of necessary equipment and 
expertise, they do not have the tools to support the plans they have in 
place and, therefore, school districts are left with gaps in their 
ability to fully prepare for emergencies. Additional clarity regarding 
access to federal resources and improved guidance may enhance the 
ability of school districts to plan and prepare for emergencies. We are 
currently considering recommendations to address these issues. 

GAO Contacts: 

For further information regarding this testimony, please contact me on 
(202) 512-8403 or William O. Jenkins, Jr. on (202) 512-8757. 
Individuals making contributions to this testimony include Kathryn 
Larin, Debra Sebastian, Tahra Nichols, and Kris Trueblood. 

FOOTNOTES 

[1] In both our site visits and our survey of school districts, we 
focused on the traditional definition of first responders--law 
enforcement, fire, and EMS. However, the Homeland Security Act as 
amended includes a broader definition of emergency response providers, 
including "Federal, State, and local governmental and nongovernmental 
emergency public safety, fire, law enforcement, emergency response, 
emergency medical (including hospital emergency facilities), and 
related personnel, agencies, and authorities." Homeland Security Act of 
2002, Pub. L. No. 107-296,  2,(codified at 6 U.S.C.  101(6)). 
Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8 defined the term "first 
responder" as "individuals who in the early stages of an incident are 
responsible for the protection and preservation of life, property, 
evidence, and the environment, including emergency response providers 
as defined in section 2 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (6 U.S.C. 
101), as well as emergency management, public health, clinical care, 
public works, and other skilled support personnel (such as equipment 
operators) that provide immediate support services during prevention, 
response, and recovery operations." 

[2] Pub. L. No. 107-296. 

[3] The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance 
Act, Pub. L. No. 100-707, provides the legal framework for this 
partnership. The Stafford Act is the principal federal statute 
governing federal disaster assistance and relief and primarily 
establishes the programs for and processes by which the federal 
government may provide major disaster and emergency assistance to 
states and local governments. The Stafford Act also provides emergency 
assistance to tribal nations, individuals and qualified private non- 
profit organizations. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is 
the principal federal agency responsible for implementing the Stafford 
Act. 

[4] GAO, Homeland Security: Preparing for and Responding to Disasters, 
GAO-07-395T (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 9, 2007); and Catastrophic 
Disasters: Enhanced Leadership, Capabilities, and Accountability 
Controls Will Improve the Effectiveness of the Nation's Preparedness, 
Response, and Recovery System, GAO-06-618 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 6, 
2006). 

[5] 20 U.S.C.  7114(d)(7)(D). However, these plans are not required to 
address multiple hazards; therefore, for purposes of this report, we do 
not consider this to be a requirement for an emergency management plan. 

[6] The purpose of the ERCM grant program is to provide funds for local 
education agencies to improve and strengthen their emergency response 
plans. School districts receiving grant funds under this program may 
use them to develop improved plans that address all four phases of 
crisis response: prevention/mitigation, preparedness, response, and 
recovery. In April 2007, Education announced that it was renaming the 
ERCM grant as the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools grant 
program (REMS) to reflect terminology used in the emergency management 
field. 72 Fed. Reg. 17,139 (April 6, 2007) 

[7] As reported by the states to the Department of Education and 
contained in the Common Core Data (CCD), there were over 17,000 school 
districts in the United States in school year 2003-04. This number 
includes school districts in Puerto Rico; four outlying areas (American 
Samoa, Guam, Northern Marianas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands); the 
Bureau of Indian Affairs; and the Department of Defense, which were 
eligible for funds but we excluded from the sample for our survey of 
school districts. Department of Defense schools are included in the CCD 
count of school districts, but according to Education officials, such 
schools are not eligible to receive funding under the ERCM/REMS grant 
program. 

[8] The State Homeland Security Program provides funds to enhance the 
emergency preparedness of state and local governments. The Urban Areas 
Security Initiative grant is awarded to some states with high threat 
and high density urban areas that need planning, exercises, equipment, 
and training to respond to acts of terrorism. Citizen Corps funds are 
provided to states to promote volunteer efforts. 

[9] A ninth state distributed DHS funding to its state education 
agency, which then provided the funding to public schools in its state. 

[10] DHS guidance for these grant programs provides that state 
administering agencies are the only agencies eligible to apply for 
funding and that they are responsible for disbursing grant funds to 
local units of government and other designated recipients. The guidance 
identifies a definition of "local unit of government" that was used in 
the Conference Report accompanying the DHS Appropriations Act of 2006, 
and which includes "any county, city, village, town, district, borough, 
parish, port authority, transit authority, intercity rail provider, 
commuter rail system, freight rail provider, water district, regional 
planning commission, council of government, Indian tribe with 
jurisdiction over Indian country, authorized Tribal organization, 
Alaska Native village, independent authority, special district, or 
other political subdivision of any State." 

[11] We included the District of Columbia in our state education and 
state administering agency surveys. 

[12] Education, for example, also obtained input from state and local 
school and emergency management officials and associations in 
developing these recommended practices. 

[13] See GAO-07-395T and GAO-06-618. 

[14] Those school districts that did not have a written emergency 
management plan cited several reasons for the lack of such plans that 
included (1) no requirement to have a written plan, (2) inadequate 
resources for experienced personnel to develop emergency plans, and (3) 
schools, not the district, have individual plans. 

[15] The Incident Command System is a standard incident management 
system to assist in managing all major incidents. The Incident Command 
System also prescribes interoperable communications systems and 
preparedness before an incident happens, including planning, training, 
and exercises. The Incident Command System was developed in the 1970s 
following a series of catastrophic fires. Specifically, researchers 
determined that response problems were more likely to result from 
inadequate management rather than from any other reason. The Incident 
Command System was designed so that responders from different 
jurisdictions and disciplines could work together better to respond to 
natural disasters and emergencies, including acts of terrorism. NIMS 
includes a unified approach to incident management: standard command 
and management structures, and emphasis on preparedness, mutual aid, 
and resource management. 

[16] In our survey, community partners included representatives from 
public health, mental health, local head of government, transportation, 
hospitals, Red Cross, faith-based community, and the business 
community. 

[17] Twelve percent of school districts do not know whether public 
health agencies were included in the development and update of plans. 
Thirteen percent of districts do not know whether the local head of 
government was included in the development and update of plans. 

[18] See GAO-06-618. 

[19] See GAO-06-618. 

[20] Two-way radios, commonly known as walkie-talkies, are radios that 
can alternate between receiving and transmitting messages. Cellular 
telephones and satellite telephones are also two-way radios but, unlike 
walkie-talkies, simultaneously receive and transmit messages. 

[21] Thirteen percent of school districts reported not knowing whether 
the district has challenges related to first responders. 

[22] GAO has reported on the range of issues associated with the lack 
of interoperability among first responders and the implications of 
these issues for emergency management. For a fuller discussion of these 
issues see the following GAO reports: First Responders: Much Work 
Remains to Improve Communications Interoperability, GAO-07-301 
(Washington, D.C.: Apr. 2, 2007); Catastrophic Disasters: Enhanced 
Leadership, Capabilities, and Accountability Controls Will Improve the 
Effectiveness of the Nation's Preparedness, Response, and Recovery 
System, GAO-06-618 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 6, 2006); and Homeland 
Security: Federal Leadership and Intergovernmental Cooperation Required 
to Achieve First Responder Interoperable Communications. GAO-04-740 
(Washington, D.C.: July 20, 2004). 

[23] National Education Association, American Association of School 
Administrators, and National Association of Secondary School 
Principals. 


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