No one likes to think about a major earthquake, flood, terrorist attack or any other catastrophe that might occur while our children are in school.

No one likes to think about a major earthquake, flood, terrorist attack or any other catastrophe that might occur while our children are in school.

But if — or when — a crisis occurs, school administrators must react swiftly and calmly to ensure the safety of their students and staff. And they must know how to effectively collaborate with other agencies such as police, fire, city and county governments, using common terminology that everyone will understand.

On Aug. 13, principals and assistant principals from every building in the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) gathered at Redmond High School for training about the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS) to promote safer schools. Summaries of course work were presented by John Hopfauf of the City of Kirkland’s Public Works department. At the end of their training, the school administrators tested their knowledge online.

To keep emergency preparedness and response tactics fresh in the minds of school district employees, “every year we do something a little different,” explained Scott Emry, risk management supervisor for the LWSD. “This year, the state legislature passed a bill regarding a comprehensive safe schools plan. All administrators must be certified as Incident Commanders so that all will have the same training and all will speak the same language. The training today is setting a baseline for all the communities. We review throughout the year and have training in every building, so it’s an ongoing process.”

Hopfauf told his captive audience that he knew they’d rather be outside enjoying the glorious weather — and that he hoped they’d never have to use this training. But it’s crucial for them to expect the unexpected.

“Earthquakes. Can we schedule them only in the middle of the night? I don’t think so. … When we need it, we’re going to be the first responders. We need to be prepared before it happens. And now it’s mandated by the OSPI (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction),” said Hopfauf.

He said that among city employees in Kirkland, there’s a popular saying that, “We can’t be everything to everybody, but we can’t afford to not do anything,” when a disaster strikes and people are panicked.

In an emergency, it will be necessary to follow proper chains of command and protocol. “There is no wildcatting,” Hopfauf stated. “Action plans will be laid out by the Incident Commander.” Once given an assignment, teachers and other staff members will need to stick to their tasks at hand.

“Life safety is the first priority. All efforts are to preserve lives and minimize injuries,” said Hopfauf. “And you will use ‘best practices,’ utilizing what resources you have. Think of what you can do in your cafeteria. You can feed and house people here. Think of what you can do on your football field — use it as a Staging Area.”

Other pre-designated areas would include the Incident Command Post, someplace close to the scene but “not in the thick of it,” a Base from which primary logistics and administrative functions would be coordinated and administered, a Helibase, from which helicopter-centered air operations would be conducted and Helispots, temporary locations where helicopters could safely land and take off to get people and supplies from place to place.

In a best-case scenario, assuming that all administrators and staff are adequately prepared, “The Incident Command System, or ICS, is a standardized, on-scene, all-hazard incident management approach … that matches the complexities and demands of the incidents without being hindered by jurisdictional boundaries,” said the introduction to the course overview.

The National Incident Management System or NIMS was developed in 2003 after President Bush issued Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5. NIMS provides a consistent nationwide template to enable all government, private-sector and nongovernmental organizations to work together during domestic incidents.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regularly updates its training programs for schools and the LWSD will continue to follow all changes and recommendations, Emry concluded.