Saturday night on August 25th, a malicious arson broke into Heritage Christian School in Bozeman, Montana and set the place on fire. This was just a few days before school was scheduled to start for their 30th year. The school Administration and Staff found out in a real hurry how prepared they were (or were not) to handle a tragedy like this.
Crime scene tape was quickly strews around the entire school campus and fire investigators told school officials the next morning they would not be allowed into the school “not even to retrieve a pencil, for up to 18 months”.
So having to deal with the reality of beginning school for 160 students with virtually nothing, not even a list of students, their parents’ contact information, class schedules, or textbooks, the folks at Heritage Christian School (HCS) learned several valuable lessons. I hope those reading this blog post who are involved in a Christian school would look into the preparedness of their school for such a tragedy. Here are some suggestions:
- Review your school alarm system, ensure it is working properly, adequate, up to code, and install surveillance cameras if appropriate.
- Back up all of your computer files frequently, and store that back up off-campus. Include all student and parent contact information.
- Do an inventory of school property. Video inventory is simplest, and store the recording off-campus.
- Visit with your insurance company and discuss “what if…” like the HCS scenario above. Make sure you are adequately covered.
- Check to see if your insurance company will cover the basic costs of relocating the school if the scenario above were to take place. How much would they cover? To grab a random figure of $500,000.00, which sounds like a lot of money, but goes very quickly if you have to immediately purchase all new textbooks, computers, desks, whiteboards, etc. Think that one through and make sure you are covered.
- Have a location(s) in mind to relocate your classes temporarily.
- Teachers should have a priority list of minimal things they need to continue teaching off-campus temporarily.
- Have a fire proof safe or storage box to keep irreplaceable documents and other items in.
- Make bank deposits daily. Don’t leave checks or cash in a place that could be destroyed by fire over night; or stolen.
- Make sure your school is “up to code” be asking a Fire Marshal to inspect your school. Remedy any issues immediately.
- Rehearse fire drills regularly, and have escape routes clearly marked, and make sure each student knows the way out in case of a fire or emergency.
- Keep chemicals, or other accelerants or explosive materials in fire proof containers.
- Have the builder of the school, janitor, or someone who knows the building very well available for quick contact to offer help and advice to the emergency responders.
- Make sure fire lanes are clearly marked and unobstructed so emergency vehicles have easy access to the building.
- Remember a fire causes damage, but smoke and water damage (from the fireman trying to put out the fire and prevent it from spreading) is often much more. How can you mitigate smoke and water damage?
God is amazing, and prepared HCS in many areas for this tragedy, but I can’t help but think other Christian schools can learn from this and be better prepared if such an event should occur to them.
Please leave a comment if you can think of any more to add to the above list, and I will add them. Lets use this as a preventative checklist to help each other!