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Home > Rules & Legislation > Letters from the Commissioner > Informational Letters > Letter 30




TO:                 Superintendents of Schools, Private School Administrators, and all School Principals

FROM:            Susan A. Gendron, Commissioner

DATE:             October 3, 2006

RE:                 Ensuring Safety in Our Schools – Adequate Planning and Effective Information Exchange

***** Please forward to Assistant Superintendents and Principals *****


            In June we gathered in Bar Harbor and discussed adequate planning for pandemic flu and stressed the importance of adequate and effective planning; and as we leave the month of September, I compliment your efforts as your students and staff remembered those individuals who were lost on September 11, 2001.   

            As this month opens, we are faced with acts of school violence in other states that remind us yet again of how important our task is to remain vigilant and committed to reviewing and practicing all of the components of our individual school crisis management plans. 

            Governor John Elias Baldacci is mindful of our responsibility to be well prepared and he recently asked Maine Emergency Management Agency, Public Safety, Maine State Police, and the Department of Education to review resources that might assist local school administrative units (SAUs) in an annual review of their individual school crisis management plans. 

            I believe that it is important for SAUs to visit the Department of Education’s School Security and Emergency Preparedness webpage at as well as to revisit Information Letter #77  (January, 2004) as that information will be useful as you update your school crisis management plans.

            I would also like to share with you a DHS-FBI bulletin from 2004 that describes specific short-term and long-term protective measures, as well as signs that may suggest potential unwelcome surveillance or threats.  Many of these measures would also be applicable to emergency situations involving natural disasters.

            Short-term protective measures should include reviewing procedures to safeguard school facilities and the students and others within them. Those recommended in the 2004 DHS-FBI bulletin include:

  • Review all school emergency and crisis management plans. Helpful guidance can be found at . This site is up to date and provides new resources for your district.

  • Raise awareness among local law enforcement officers and school officials by conducting exercises relating to school emergency and school crisis management plans.

  • Raise awareness among school officials and students by conducting awareness training relating to the school environment that includes awareness of signs of terrorism.

  • Raise community awareness of any potential threats as well as vulnerabilities.

  • Prepare the school staff to act in a crisis situation.

  • Consider a closed-campus approach to limit visitors.

  • Consider a single entry point for all attendees, staff and visitors.

  • Ensure that school officials will always be able to contact school buses.

  • Ensure that emergency communications from and to schools are working.

  • Download the Red Cross brochure, “Terrorism: Preparing for the Unexpected”, at and provide a copy to students, staff and faculty.

  • Report any suspicious activity to law enforcement authorities.

            Long-term protective measures should include physical enhancements to school buildings. Among the measures schools should consider are the following:

  • Install secure locks for all external and internal doors and windows.

  • Install window and external door protections with quick-release capability.

  • Consider establishing a safe area (or safe areas) within the school for assembly and shelter during emergencies.

  • Apply protective coating on windows in facilities that face traffic. Other helpful information on school facilities can be found at

            In the analysis they provided to local law enforcement officials, DHS and the FBI have also outlined activities to watch for that may suggest potential unwelcome surveillance of educational facilities. Any one of these indicators, taken alone, may reflect legitimate activity not related to terrorism. Multiple indicators, however, could suggest a heightened terrorist or criminal threat. They are:

  • Unusual interest in security, entry points, and access controls or barriers such as fences or walls;

  • Interest in obtaining site plans for schools, bus routes, attendance lists, and other information about a school, its employees or students;

  • Unusual behavior such as staring at or quickly looking away from personnel or vehicles entering or leaving designated facilities or parking areas;

  • Observation of security reaction drills or procedures;

  • Increase in anonymous telephone or e-mail threats to facilities in conjunction with suspected surveillance incidents;

  • Foot surveillance involving individuals working together;

  • Mobile surveillance using bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, cars, trucks, sport utility vehicles, limousines, boats or small aircraft;

  • Prolonged static surveillance using people disguised as panhandlers, shoe shiners, food, newspaper or flower vendors, or street sweepers not previously seen in the area;

  • Discreet use of still cameras, video recorders, or note-taking at non-tourist locations;

  • Use of multiple sets of clothing and identification or the use of sketching materials (paper, pencils, etc.);

  • Questioning of security or facility personnel; and

  • Unexplained presence of unauthorized persons in places where they should not be.

            It is my hope that you will carefully review this information and work with your security staff, local law enforcement, first responders, and emergency preparedness personnel to ensure that these protective measures are included in your school crisis management plan. I again encourage you to visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website on crisis planning where additional information about key elements of a crisis plans can be found.  If you need further assistance, I have provided a list of resources below, or you may contact Harvey Boatman at the Department of Education at 


Resources Available for Schools

Information, Guides and Reports

Emergency Plan Web Site
The Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools’ Emergency Plan website provides a one-stop site for information to help plan for, mitigate, respond to and recover from any emergency (natural disasters, violent incidents, terrorist acts and the like). The site provides access to ED materials, such as “Practical Information on Crisis Planning”, and links to additional emergency planning resources from government agencies and nongovernmental organizations, and health-care provider resources, mental health resources, and state and local resources.

Practical Information on Crisis Planning: A Guide for Schools and Communities This binder provides schools and communities with basic guidelines and useful ideas on how to develop and refine their emergency response and crisis management plans for each phase of crisis planning: mitigation and prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. This information is available at  

Infrastructure Protection: National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities
This web-based clearinghouse at provides information on school safety issues, such as how to design buildings to prevent or mitigate possible terrorist attacks and violence.

Bomb Threat Assessment Guide: ED and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
The “Step-by-Step Guide for Bomb Threats” can assist school districts, administrators and emergency responders in planning an effective bomb threat response protocol in schools. A CD/ROM interactive planning tool provides schools with a 15-step guide. In 2003, a copy of the CD/ROM was distributed to every school district in the country. It is still available at

Campus Public Safety Guide
The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Domestic Preparedness published a series titled “Campus Public Safety: Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism Protective Measures” in April 2003. This document describes affirmative steps colleges and universities can take to prevent, deter or effectively respond to an attack by weapons of mass destruction. It is available at  

Safe Schools Initiative: ED and the U.S. Secret Service
The 2002 “Safe Schools Initiative Guide and Final Report” provides guidelines for managing threatening situations and offers ways to create a safe school environment. It is available at

The National Education Association’s “Crisis Communication Guide & Toolkit”
This tool offers information that can be used to conduct drills, revise crisis manuals, improve crisis responses, come to the immediate aid of affected individuals, and seek consultation when needed.
National School Safety Center’s “Checklist of Characteristics of Youth Who Have Caused School-Associated Violent Deaths”
In addition to other school safety materials, this checklist offers valuable insight into characteristics that may alert school staff to troubled students.
** Also learn about Safe Schools Week, October 15-21, 2006 at

School Planning and Management Magazine’s “Improving Your
Emergency/Crisis Response Plan”
This article offers tips on building your emergency/crisis response plan, from using a code system to implementing an Educational Facilities Officer Program and more.

Information Specifically for Children

A website with age-appropriate information for children on disasters is at In addition, the Department of Homeland Security is working to expand its citizen preparedness “Ready” campaign by getting children involved in preparing for crises. The website is planned to be launched later this year.

Information Dealing With Trauma

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network website contains the following links to tools and materials that can be used by schools both for school planning purposes and as handouts to parents and caregivers:
** The link to “Presentation Tools” allows one to view and download slide presentations on selected topics related to child trauma and traumatic stress, including statistics on the prevalence of child trauma, current interventions to reduce the impact of child traumatic stress, and an overview of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
** The link to “Educational Materials”  includes tip sheets for parents, caregivers, and teachers on current topics, as well as basic information on child traumatic stress for different audiences