Storm clouds, bolts of lightning, people and pets running for cover—the images called up by the word “disaster,” right? But if you attended the Choice Partners disaster preparedness workshop at Harris County Department of Education on July 15, you are probably picturing dollar signs, legal pads and mounds of paperwork. According to presenters at the three-hour lunch meeting, that’s what a disaster, in the legal sense of the word, amounts to.
“The only thing worse than a disaster is having to recover without the available funds you need,” said Tony Alaniz of Adjusters International, which holds an HCDE awarded contract through Choice Partners cooperative.
Speaking to a group of facilities, procurement and safety managers from entities around Houston, Alaniz emphasized the financial—and legal—nature of disaster planning.
“It can be critical that the I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed throughout the process,” he said, on the subject of insurance claims and working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “Insurance claims can be drawn out, unforgiving and, if it’s a presidentially declared disaster, highly scrutinized,” Alaniz added.
In addition to FEMA and insurance best practices, learning about topics such as mitigation, procurement and greater safety and security for schools were major goals of the workshop.
Attendees reported that the speakers made an impact. “This is good training for us, very informative and practical,” said Sophia Chang, an assistant director for the city of Houston. “The presenters are very experienced and knowledgeable.”
Chang added that the workshop was “a very good foundation” for members of her staff, who “do a lot of ‘number crunching’ and tracking of all the disaster supporting documentation.”
The importance of documentation during a crisis emerged several times throughout the workshop. “Document, document, document,” Alaniz repeated.
“Documentation was emphasized, especially taking pictures,” echoed Jeff Spears, purchasing coordinator, city of Friendswood. “That is always a good thing to do.”
But be reasonable, cautioned Sheree Kroeger, safety program specialist, HCDE Center for Safe and Secure Schools (CSSS). “Don’t stop in the middle of an emergency situation to write things down,” she said. The absurdity drew laughs from the crowd.
The emphasis on legal note-taking, however, was not meant to undermine the emotional turmoil that a crisis situation can cause, whether it’s a drought, flood, tornado, train derailment, shooting or other type of natural or man-made event. Disasters require preparedness simply because, in the moment, they can be chaotic. The goal is to learn from past mistakes and not to be unnecessarily naïve about the likelihood of an event.
“Crises will occur in schools,” Kroeger said. “It’s not a question of if, but when.”
She went on to describe the importance not just of having a plan, but of reviewing, updating and practicing it.
Kroeger got the point across. “It was interesting, being from the city, I really learned a lot about the school district side of purchasing,” Spears remarked. “As an outsider, you take for granted all that schools have to do to be prepared for a disaster.”
Spears added that the presentations by Kroeger and her CSSS colleagues opened his eyes about the processes needed to protect schools from intruders. He also enjoyed getting to meet vendors who use Choice Partners cooperative contracts.
“I talked to all of them,” Spears said. “I’m going to be working on a synopsis of the vendors that there were and present it to the city.”
One of the vendors present was Gary Shoemake, part of the disaster recovery team at ServPro, which also has an awarded contract for Disaster Mitigation available through HCDE's purchasing cooperative, Choice Partners. Spears said talking to Shoemake was “very interesting,” and that he would consider working with ServPro in the future.
“Since ServPro is part of the Choice Partners co-op, we can use them without going through the bid process again,” he added.
Choice Partners purchasing cooperative offers many contracts that help purchasing officials prepare for and recover from a disaster. For general disaster mitigation, recovery and restoration, Choice Partners has legal, competitively bid contracts needed to prepare facilities for a crisis, recover facilities during a crisis and restore facilities after a crisis.
· Disaster Mitigation
· IDIQ Construction and Trades
· Industrial Equipment
· Janitorial Supplies
· Roofing – Building Envelope, Weatherproofing Services
· Blue Tarps
· Tree Trimming
· Waste removal
The Center for Safe and Secure Schools at Harris County Department of Education provides a Web-based Emergency Operation Planning solution, which meets state mandates and can be customized to address individual campus needs, including
Facility Safety and Security Audits that meet Texas Education Code Requirements and
All Hazard Emergency Operation Planning, using a web-based platform Emergency Response Information Portal (ERIP), which enables the reviewing and updating of current plans to meet NIMS standards. In addition, districts have the option to add the capability of giving first responders access to cameras, floor plans and site mapping information.
Once a plan is in place, training and practice are critical steps to effectively carry it out. The Center offers:
NIMs training, tabletop exercises and certification opportunities - U.S. Department of Education and Department of Homeland Security National Incident Management
Threat Assessment Training
Intruderology (Active Shooter)
For more information, call on HCDE’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools at 713-696-2127 for a professional, comprehensive and effective emergency response planning service.