In January 2012, a fire started just south of Reno in Nevada’s Washoe County. Here’s a look at the Washoe Drive Fire according to the numbers:
Even with a fire making its destructive way toward them, the staff and students did not fall into chaos. Instead, the evacuation was a smooth reenactment of prior practice. “We have a small elementary school of 300 students in the middle of this community,” states Mike Mieras, chief for Washoe County School District Police. “Because we had been through all the drills, the school staff and our officers, we were able to evacuate that school in 5 minutes. That includes getting the kids on the buses and out of the area in 5 minutes. It pays off to have these measures in place.” These measures were funded in part by the Secure our Schools (SOS) grant issued by the Community Oriented Policing Service (COPS) office of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
About the SOS
The COPS office states that “America’s children spend more time in school than almost any other place outside the home.” Due to this, school safety requires more than just diligent teachers; it necessitates the assistance of administration, security staff and law enforcement. Demonstrating its commitment, the COPS office has funded more than $913 million in grants through a variety of programs, including the SOS grant.
In 2009, the COPS office funded $16 million to 128 agencies in 38 states. In 2010, it offered $15.9 million to 167 agencies in 40 states and Puerto Rico and in 2011, 93 agencies in 32 states received $13 million. The SOS grant gives up to $500,000 to help with project costs related to school security and safety. These can include metal detectors, locks, lighting, fencing, closed-circuit surveillance systems, security assessments and security training. Grant funding requires a 50-percent match and although the money is for school district projects, the local law enforcement agency must be the applicant. This combination encourages partnerships from the very beginning. What makes this grant interesting is the variety of ways agencies are using the money to fit their unique needs.
Olathe Police Department applied for SOS funding in 2005, and in each year 2007 through 2010. Olathe Unified School District has just over 28,000 students with a local population of 127,022. The department was awarded $17,750 in 2005 and $68,750 in 2010. When Olathe PD heard about the grant opportunity, it called the school district to ask if they would like to apply. The department already had a school resource officer program in the district including 10 full-time SROs (one with a K-9) and a full-time supervisor. The grant seemed like a good fit for current priorities in light of the changes needed to meet federal regulations.
Each Olathe SOS grant was used for a different project. The first grant was used for a community notification system. The second is being used to implement 700 MHz radios. “The safety assessment (a requirement for every SOS grantee) indicated a pending loss of crisis management communications during critical incidents for the school district with the federal mandate to move to a P25-compliant, 700 MHz radio system,” explains Jeri Graniewski, administrative division manager with Olathe PD. “The Johnson County radio system that the school district is currently working under will no longer be available with the upgrade to the 700 MHz system. To maintain interagency operability, the school district needs to move to the P25-compliant 700 MHz radio system by 2013.” With the new radio system, the district and police can work together, communicating to keep students safe.