New Requirements for Fire and Safety Drills for Ohio Schools
As building principals finalize this school year and begin to plan out their required drills for the 2015-2016 school year, they should make note of recent changes to the number and type of drills that are now required under state law. House Bill 178, which codified recent changes, passed both houses of the legislature and was signed into law in the final days of 2014. It became effective March 23, 2015.
Drills or Rapid Dismissals
While the number of certain types of drills has changed, all district schools will still be required to complete nine overall drills, rapid dismissals, or school safety drills per school year. For most schools with newer infrastructure, HB 178 reduces the number of regular drills or rapid dismissals required for schools to six, but increases the number of safety drills that must be performed from one to three for a total of nine. If a school does not have smoke detectors or a sprinkler system in all classroom buildings, the drills/dismissals must be conducted at least nine times during the school year. However, the new law permits schools that fall in to this second category to count the three safety drills toward the nine required. Additionally, instruction regarding tornado warning precautions must still be provided in conjunction with the drills/rapid dismissals, and tornado drills must be conducted at least once per month during tornado season (April 1- July 31).
School Safety Drills
As indicated above, the bill increases the number of safety drills, such as lockdowns and evacuations, from one drill to three safety drills per school year. Safety drills provide students with instruction in responding to situations in which students must either rapidly evacuate or be secured in the building in response to a threat caused by an act of violence. The law mandates that at least one of these three drills require students to be secured in the building. The new law also requires that each of these three drills be planned and executed in conjunction with “the police chief or other similar chief law enforcement officer, or designee, of the municipal corporation, township, or township or joint police district in which the school or institution is located, or, in absence of any such person, the county sheriff of the county, or designee, in which the school or institution is located.” Principals must continue to provide law enforcement with 72 hours advanced written notice of the safety drills. The safety drills must also be conducted pursuant to the school’s emergency management plan. HB 178 removed the December 1st deadline for completing a school safety drill.
Theoretical School Safety Drill
Schools must also conduct one staff safety planning exercise, called a theoretical school safety drill, at some point during the school year in addition to the safety drills mentioned above. The purpose of this planning exercise is to provide staff and faculty with instruction regarding procedures to be followed in response to a threat of violence. The planning exercise does not require student participation and may be completed during the annual school safety drill training session required under ORC 3737.73(D)(3).
Timing of Drills
At least one drill/rapid dismissal or school safety drill must be conducted every month of the school year. Additionally, the first drill or rapid dismissal must be within 10 days of the start of classes, and drills/rapid dismissals must be conducted at varied times of the day.
Principals are still required to keep documentation of the date and time of each drill conducted. The deadline for providing this documentation to law enforcement from the prior school year has not changed (December 5th each year), but what documentation must be submitted has changed. Under the new law, principals must provide both the date and time of each school safety drill conducted during the previous school year, and the date and time each drill will be conducted during the current school year. The law expanded the options for submitting this document to include not only regular mail, but also facsimile or electronic submission.
The Department of Commerce created a Technical Bulletin with FAQ about the new requirement titled “Drills or Rapid Dismissals and School Safety Drills.” You can access the bulletin at the following web address: https://saferschools.ohio.gov/sites/default/files/HB178-TB15-001%20-%20FAQ%20-%20final.pdf