On Friday, March 17, at Endicott College, the Northeast Homeland Security Regional Advisory Council (NERAC) and the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) sponsored a school safety conference to introduce 225 stakeholders from school districts and public safety agencies throughout Essex and Middlesex Counties to the 2nd Edition of the NEMLEC School Threat Assessment and Response System (STARS) Toolkit.
The STARS Toolkit provides public officials with a comprehensive resource for preparing for all types of emergencies within schools, and includes guidance on building multi-disciplinary crisis response teams, responding to bomb threats, holding effective trainings and exercises, and much more. This 2nd edition replaces the 1st edition (published in 2006) with updated information and best practices based on the lessons that have been learned across the country over the last 11 years. All conference attendees were provided with a copy of the STARS Toolkit, as well as a STARS School Emergency Operations Plan (SEOP) template that can be used to formally establish and document local emergency procedures. These resources were developed by the STARS Toolkit Committee, which consists of a group of volunteers from several police departments and school districts in the region. Copies of both the STARS Toolkit and the STARS SEOP can be found at www.STARSTOOLKIT.org.
Medford Police Chief Leo Sacco delivers opening remarks.
Opening remarks at the conference were delivered by Undersecretary for Homeland Security Patrick McMurray and Assistant Undersecretary for Homeland Security Hans Olson (both from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security), Chief Richard McLaughlin of the Belmont Police Department (NEMLEC President and NERAC Council member), and Chief Leo Sacco of the Medford Police Department (NEMLEC STARS Control Chief and NERAC Council Chair). During the day-long event, members of the STARS Toolkit Committee provided a detailed overview of the contents of the Toolkit, SEOP, and website, outlining the wide variety of situations that each may be useful in. Two very informative guest speakers, Dr. Lina Alathari (Chief of the National Threat Assessment Center for the United States Secret Service), and Michele Gay, (Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools) also presented at this event. Dr. Alathari spoke about the challenges of identifying and addressing threats to safety in schools using case studies from across the country, and Ms. Gay explained the events and lessons learned as a result of the December 14, 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT from the perspective of a parent.
Michele Gay speaks about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting from the perspective of a parent.
“Bringing people from public safety professions such as law enforcement and the fire service together with educators, school administrators, and mental health professionals to address problems collaboratively is the primary principle that the STARS model was founded upon in 1999” said Chief Sacco, who has served as the Control Chief for STARS since the organization’s inception. “The development of this new toolkit and the diversity of the audience at this event are tremendous examples of the strong partnerships that have been formed between individuals in each of those professions over many years, and their dedication towards the common goal of improving safety in all of our schools” he added.
Members of the STARS Toolkit Committee celebrate completion of the 2nd Edition.
In an evaluation survey that was conducted after the conference to determine the effectiveness of the event, 97 of the 99 respondents stated that they are likely to use the STARS Toolkit document to improve their organization’s level of preparedness for all types of emergencies, and 97 out of 99 also stated that the conference provided them with new skills/knowledge that would help them in their current role, making this an initiative that both NERAC and NEMLEC can continue to be proud of. Summarizing the successful day, Chief McLaughlin said that “Ensuring the safety of the children and faculty in our schools is a priority for both NERAC and NEMLEC, and we are thankful for the support from the membership of both organizations and the hard work of the dedicated volunteers who made this event possible”.