The Ottumwa Courier

August 6, 2013

Cardinal schools amp up safety precautions

By CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Cardinal schools are that much safer with a donation of 40 backpacks, each stuffed with emergency supplies.

"I was trying to find a way to expend our emergency preparedness fund in collaboration with community partners," said Wapello County Public Health clinical director Lynelle Diers. "These are from federal funds we get through the state."

That's when Wapello County Emergency Management coordinator Josh Stevens suggested supplying Cardinal schools with emergency backpacks to complement their saferoom. He had identified a gap in what schools had and what they still needed in terms of emergency supplies.

"These are not designed for long-term," he said. "The backpacks are for three days, but it's always good to have these items on hand."

The supplies could be used in any emergency situation, Diers said, from a power outage to a tornado to a lock-down scenario.

Each backpack weighs around 40 pounds and has enough supplies for four people. In total, they cost around $6,000.

"It takes a big burden off of our shoulders," said Cardinal Principal Jeremy Hissem.

The backpacks include flashlights, masks, radios, first aid kits, tarps, water, food, rope, blankets, warmers, ponchos, gloves, coloring books, pads and more.

"They'll be kept in the classrooms in case of an emergency, so they'll be easily accessible by classroom staff," Diers said.

The Cardinal school district has 40 to 50 classrooms, Hissem said, so the goal is to have one backpack per grade, if not per classroom.

Hissem, a new addition to the district, said he was ecstatic to hear about the donation.

"You don't always have these partnerships with other entities when you come to a new district," he said. "We're professional educators, and these people are trained and certified in safety and health. They're the experts, so getting their input is very important to us because we're not the people trained for this."

The emergency backpacks are not a result of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Newtown, Conn. last winter, he said.

"It seems like it but these things were in planning for a long time," he said. "I signed up to take a course in public safety before that happened, but that made it that much more important. Unfortunately, we've had a lot of these instances, so we're getting better at being prepared for them.

"Hopefully we never have to use them, but we want to be proactive in our preparedness. As a parent, you think, what is our school going to do in case of an emergency? Are they prepared?"

— To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to twitter.com/chelsealeedavis.