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James Foster upgrades disaster preparation

Elementary school tries to better prepare itself in case disaster strikes

Posted: July 7, 2009 9:00 p.m.
Updated: July 8, 2009 4:55 a.m.

James Foster Elementary PTA President Ann Heinstedt, left, and Melissa Ryan, the school's vice president of disaster preparedness, get a lesson in door-opening with a Hooligan Tool and sledge hammer from Paul Brandley Jr. of Spartan International.

Every year brought the same plan at James Foster Elementary School.

At the start of the school year, families would send a zip-closed bag filled with extra clothes for their kids, comfort items and snacks to be stored in the on-campus bins, said Melissa Ryan, former vice president of disaster preparation for the school in Saugus.

It’s a common practice as all of the elementary schools in the Saugus Union School District have on-site disaster bins filled with supplies in case of an emergency, said Keith Karzin, director of safety and risk management for the Saugus Union School District.

Every elementary school, junior high and high school have some type of disaster bin, he said.

“It is something that we feel from a safety standpoint that we need to have these on campus,” he said.

Along with the bins, school principals organize emergency action plans for each school annually, he said.

The goal is to maintain student safety in the event of a disaster.

“We live in a place prone to natural and sometimes manmade disasters,” Ryan said. “If an event should occur where the children would be forced to stay after school for an extended period of time or if something catastrophic happened, you want to be able to provide for the children if the worst were to happen.”

But at James Foster, having 600 plastic bags sitting in plastic trash bins for much of the school year didn’t seem like a good idea anymore, Ryan said.

The bags could be mixed up and the snacks could go bad in storage containers.

With help from Ryan and the efforts of James Foster’s PTA, the school decided to try something new.

“We took a more communal approach to it,” Ryan said.

Instead of sending individual plastic bags with their kids, parents were asked to donate $5.

That money would then be pooled so that Ryan and other parent volunteers could purchase emergency supplies in bulk.

With $1,464 collected each year for two years, the school was able to put their funds to good use, purchasing enough supplies for every single child for one day or about one-third of the school’s population for three days, Ryan said.

Topping off the bins is a breaching kit, commonly used by emergency responders to free stuck doors, Ryan said.

Thanks to a family friend, James Foster was able to purchase a breaching kit for $80 last month and store it in the disaster bins. The kits typically cost about $200.

Included in the kit is a sledgehammer and bolt cutters for trained teachers to use in case of an emergency, Ryan said.

As the end of the school year approached, the PTA put the final touches on the walk-in disaster bin, organizing them by order of importance.

The breaching kit, safety helmets, vests, gloves, masks and goggles are near the entrance, Ryan said.

Following that are medical supplies and First Aid kits with food ration bars, glow sticks, flashlights and batteries after that.

The money even allowed for privacy shelters, emergency blankets and portable toilets to be purchased for the school’s emergency bins, she said.

Plans to purchase a generator are also in the works, Ryan said.

Despite the efforts, the hope is that a disaster will never require the bin to be opened.

“We hope to never need to use it,” Ryan said.



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