As the Lee County School District prepares for the start of the upcoming school year, thinking of ways to keep children safe during and after an emergency is a top priority.
For the first time, the school district is implementing a program that will standardize the way schools communicate during a crisis.
About two dozen Lee County School District administrators, principals, safety and security personnel and school resource officers gathered at the Southwest Florida Public Service Academy in Fort Myers for training on standardized emergency response protocols.
Lee School’s Safety and Security Director Richard Parfitt said the purpose of the gathering was to training the trainers.
"This is an emergency response, so not the prevention piece as much as it is the response piece in an emergency," Parfitt said.
This year, the school district is adopting the emergency response program of the I Love You Guys Foundation.
The organization started 10 years ago and has been implemented by hundreds of school districts. According to I Love You Guys Foundation Executive Director, John-Michael Keyes, language is extremely important during a school crisis.
"One jurisdiction may have multiple districts within it, having that common language between neighbors is really important for law enforcement and understanding how to respond," Keyes said.
Keyes knows all too well how important responses to school emergencies are. His own daughter was killed in the 2006 school shooting at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, CO.
"Over the course of the afternoon, my daughter Emily sends a text message, “I love you guys,” Keyes said. "Ultimately, the gunman shot and killed Emily and the Jefferson County SWAT team then shot him. But based on that text message we started the I Love You Guys Foundation and, really, Emily gave us a voice in this."
Keyes was asked why he chose emergency response language as a tool to revolutionize how school emergencies are handled.
"It (communication) really is the foundational premise of crisis response," Keyes said. "How do we talk about things? FEMA tells us plainly that codes don’t work in a crisis. We hear it all—code red, code blue code, whatever—the reality is, let’s say what it is, and perform the action."
The I Love You Guys Foundation’s program is two-fold: It outlines protocols and language to be used during and after an emergency has taken place as well as procedures to be followed to reunify children with families after an emergency.
"We want to have that emergency standardized response and a standardized reunification method that students will easily follow, our school administrators and school teachers will be able to follow as well," Parfitt said.