Berkeley Unified Gets Emergency Preparedness Grant

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday October 15, 2009 - 12:56:00 PM

Berkeley Unified School District announced Wednesday that it has been awarded a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to boost emergency management plans in its schools. 

District spokesperson Mark Coplan said the district was thrilled with the news because it had initially expected to be awarded much less. 

“It’s pretty phenomenal,” he said. “We were expecting only $100,000 for a district of our size, but to get a quarter of a million dollars is really incredible.” 

Berkeley Unified competed in the federal “Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools” competition in April. 

Coplan said the grant would enable it to work with community members and individual school sites and departments to create emergency management plans, train staff and the public to implement them and carry out exercises to measure the effectiveness of the program. 

“We are delighted,” said the district’s Transportation Manager Bernadette Cormier. “The money will help us do major work on our central disaster plan and the individual schools’ disaster plans.” 

 The grant will also help the district to perform an in-depth risk analysis for the district’s potential disaster scenarios and develop a comprehensive emergency management plan.  

Cormier said the funds would go toward resources, including incident command supplies, first aid, fire suppression and search and rescue operations. 

The grant period runs from Oct. 1, 2009, through March 1, 2011. 

The district will be working with the City of Berkeley, the local emergency management and school community throughout the period. 

When asked whether Berkeley Unified was prepared for a major earthquake, Cormier pointed out that Berkeley was probably the only district in the Bay Area which had seismically retrofitted its schools. 

“We were able to do this only because of the commitment of the district and the generosity of the city’s bond measure,” Cormier said. 

The district will be moving its headquarters from the seismically unsafe Old City Hall building at 2134 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way to West Campus in 2011.  

Cormier said the district would be taking part in the Great California ShakeOut Thursday, Oct. 15, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake. 

Millions of people throughout California are expected to take part in the ShakeOut drill (www.shakeout.org), the largest earthquake preparedness activity in U.S. history. 

“We know that at some point a large-scale disaster could take place and we are preparing for it,” Cormier said. 

The grant will also help the district plan for pandemic and food emergency scenarios. 

Coplan said that the district has been working on overall emergency preparedness for over the last five years The Berkeley Fire Department has carried out search and rescue training at all the schools since then. 

In the past, members of the Berkeley High School Safety Committee have urged the Berkeley Unified School District and former Superintendent Michele Lawrence to update emergency preparedness supplies in the Berkeley public schools, especially water. 

In response to a request by Safety Committee member and Berkeley High parent Margit Roos Collins, Lawrence replenished the water containers at the school sites before retiring last year. 

Collins, who has worked consistently on the district’s safety preparedness issues for sometime, could not be reached for comment by press time. 

Cormier said district Superintendent Bill Huyett had asked for the water supplies to be updated over the winter or summer break. 

“There has been a fabulous push last year and this year to upgrade all our emergency containers and on constant attention and vigilance,” Cormier said. “We are hopeful that the grant will only enhance things for the next 18 months.”