By Patricia L. Fitzgerald 2016-06-14 12:25:35
Calling something a “disaster” has become common conversational hyperbole, but the vast majority of us have been most fortunate not to have experienced a genuine disaster. While we certainly should count our blessings, we should not get complacent in a false sense of security. Most disasters—natural and manmade—occur with very little warning and are largely out of our control to prevent or avoid. What is within our control is our readiness to respond. When we are prepared for even the unlikely possibility of varying disaster scenarios, we can mitigate, or diminish, their devastating consequences. Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012, there have been some 200 shootings on elementary, secondary and college campuses across America. 2015 was the worst U.S. wildfire year on record, burning more than 10 million acres. Cybercrime is skyrocketing. There were some 1,200 reported tornadoes in 2015. And as this issue went to press, boldfaced headlines warned consumers of a massive frozen foods recall that involved more than 400 products. HOW WELL DO YOU MEASURE UP? In 2013, the National Food Service Management Institute (now the Institute of Child Nutrition) published the Emergency Preparedness Resource Guide for School Nutrition Professionals. This self-assessment tool was developed with guidance from an expert panel of school nutrition directors, state agency representatives and emergency management personnel. It is divided into four sections: Prevention Mitigation, Preparation, Response and Recovery. Each features a series of best practice steps. In this article on emergency preparedness, we’ll take a look at several of the steps in the first two sections of the Guide. Assess your school meals operation honestly. Have you fully implemented the steps as described? Have you implemented it to some degree? Or perhaps you must admit that you have not addressed it at all. If this best practice step is not fully in place, how will you get there? Reflect on your plan of action. Will you do it on your own, with others or delegate the responsibility? Are there deadlines to meet? When will you commit to starting? With these questions in mind, let’s take a look at 30+ best steps to emergency preparedness for your school nutrition operation. PRIORITIZE SECURITY The goal is to develop security procedures that will help to minimize risks to your operation. Start by familiarizing yourself with the school district’s current security procedures. Are your employees expected to wear identification badges? Are these unique to the school? If so, what are the steps to follow if you have a substitute assigned to the site for the day? Is there a specific entrance that foodservice employees are expected to use? Establish a procedure to account for all keys, cards, codes, uniforms and ID badges that have been provided to members of your team. How will these be collected or disabled if an individual leaves your employ? What are the security protocols if the employee leaves voluntarily or has been fired? What if he or she simply fails to return to work? You especially want to protect your school from former employees who are disgruntled or who have made veiled or overt threats. Even the most charming rural community is not safe from petty thieves and hardened predators. Make sure your staff members keep delivery vehicles locked when they are not in use. Loading bays and rear doors also should be kept secured. Do you have procedures or equipment to secure and monitor all access points to the foodservice facility? Security cameras may be worth the investment. Consider also how you will secure such foodservice areas as walk-in STAMP! freezers, coolers and dry storage rooms. What steps can you take to control and monitor access to all foods, beverages and chemicals? Establish a procedure for monitoring and reporting signs of suspicious activity in all foodservice areas. Create a plan for periodic safety inspections/checks. Assess any security vulnerabilities in your operation as part of emergency preparedness training that you conduct with your staff. Together, you may determine ways to address these. By involving them in this type of problem-solving, they will be more vested in the entire process. THIS IS NOT A DRILL The goal is to ensure that your school nutrition team is prepared to respond in an emergency. The school district should have a disaster plan; individual school sites may have ones written to their unique specifications. As a director, you should review all disaster plans to be sure that the responsibilities of all positions within the school nutrition operation are covered. (You might be surprised by how often the cafeteria team is left out of such plans!) Make sure your managers have done the same. One way to address any holes in a disaster plan is to conduct mock foodservice emergency exercises. Then you can make modifications as necessary. In addition to any sessions that you conduct, make sure that your team members are included in emergency preparedness training that involves all school community stakeholders. (Again, you might be surprised by how often the cafeteria team is exempt from school-based training and drills.) Such training should be mandatory for all employees, no matter their job level or the number of hours they work per day or week. In particular, make sure your staff know exactly which authorities to contact when an emergency is imminent, whether it be a food defense concern, a gas leak or a suspicious person on the premises. These include law enforcement, hazardous material representatives, health officials, fire and rescue personnel, food safety regulatory staff and so on. Provide employees with a checklist of immediate actions that should be taken in case of emergency; post a copy of this checklist in predominant foodservice areas. It’s a good idea to provide information on emergency preparedness as part of new employee orientation. Make sure that you train staff on all the documentation processes that are associated with emergency preparedness. FACILITIES & EQUIPMENT The goal is to establish a system that will help you safely maintain your facilities, equipment and inventory. Start in your storage areas. Stock breakable items and large heavy objects on low shelves. (Make sure you follow other protocols about food storage, such as keeping foods and chemicals in separate areas and managing a first-in/first-out rotation system.) Monitor the electrical wiring and gas connections in all foodservice areas, including kitchens, storage and dining (especially if you have kiosks and other mobile or freestanding stations inside and outside the cafeteria). Do you have a plan for regular maintenance of these? Label and code all electrical breakers for quick response in an emergency. Keep a list of these somewhere that can be accessed from a remote location. Ensure that automatic gas shutoff valves have been installed on all gas appliances. Protect and secure all records relating to the school nutrition operation and establish a daily back-up system for your computer, preferably to an off-site location, such as the cloud. You also need to look at your facilities from the perspective of your staff. Post an emergency escape route at each facility. Develop a list of safe places (both indoor and outdoor) for each type of disaster—a safe place in an earthquake is not necessarily the same safe place in a tornado. In an active shooter event, if your team members cannot get out safely, where is the best place in the facility to hide? Develop a procedure for re-entry into the foodservice facilities during and after an emergency. If you cannot use your facility in the wake of an emergency, where else can you prep and serve food? You’ll want to maintain as much consistency as possible for your students. It’s also important to be aware of any schools in your district that have been designated as active shelters. What are the steps involved in calling employees back to work after an emergency? Are you aware of the process for tracking employee time (and issuing paychecks) during disaster operations? In fact, it’s helpful to encourage administrators to budget annually for emergency planning improvements. READY TO RESPOND The goal is to establish procedures to ensure safe food and non-food resources in the event of any type of emergency. Establish alternate emergency menus considering potential food inventory, power, water supply and available personnel. These likely will vary, depending on the type of disaster or the level of damage that occurs. What steps will you take to identify and track the quantity of food and supplies that are used during and after the emergency? Start by establishing a district-wide inventory of existing food and supplies that you will set aside in preparation for an emergency event. Give careful consideration to perishable and non-perishable foods. What will be safe to serve? Do you have sufficient small-wares, such as manual bottle and can openers that can be used if you lack power? Also make sure you have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment, especially gloves! Maintain a list of approved vendor contacts who can deliver food and supplies in the wake of an emergency. Do you know who you will turn to if you need equipment rental? Identify vendors (and establish contracts/agreements) for post-emergency clean up and restoration of foodservice areas. How will you monitor and guard against contamination that could have consequences long after the emergency has passed? THE PROPER PLAN The best practice standards highlighted here are best applied as an assessment to identify areas of weakness in your operation’s preparation steps and identify a plan of action. But they can also help you identify resources you’ll need to follow through on such planning and implementation of preparedness policies and procedures. Finally, these steps will be useful in determining training needs for your supervisors, site managers and staff. Earn 1 CEU in the designated Key area and Key Topic Code noted above READINESS AT A GLANCE Produced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the 2016 National Preparedness Report evaluates and measures the gains that individuals and communities, private and non-profit sectors, faith-based organizations and all levels of governments have made in preparedness and identifies where challenges remain. Some of the findings covering FY 2015 follow. • Federal agencies assisted in 43 major disaster declarations across 32 states, territories and tribes. • There’s been progress in understanding and addressing the needs of children in emergency response planning. • Progress has been made in meeting the disaster housing needs of low-income families and individuals, but persistent housing challenges remain at all levels of government. • The severe 2015 wildfire season strained fire suppression resources. • New research highlights the risk of longer and more intense droughts in the future. • The 2015 avian influenza outbreak revealed waste management and biosecurity gaps in the nation’s ability to respond to animal disease outbreaks. • The nation has become progressively more vulnerable to dam failures. • FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provided more than $2.8 billion in preparedness grants. To date in 2016, there have been 25 school shootings in 20 U.S. states. 15 of these shootings, including unintentional ones, caused injury or death. 10 were considered deliberate attacks. Patricia Fitzgerald is editor of School Nutrition and senior director of Digital and Print Communications at SNA. Visit www.nfsmi.org to download a copy of the NFSMI Emergency Preparedness Guide for School Nutrition Professionals in order to review the complete self-assessment and to make full use of the accompanying tools.
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