By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
In case of a local natural disaster or other emergency, Havre Public Schools will provide an emergency shelter and a facility to store and dispense medication or vaccines.
Havre Public Schools has approved agreements with Hill County to provide the Havre High School gymnasium as a mass shelter in case large numbers of people require emergency medical treatment, emergency antibiotics or vaccines, or even a place to sleep at night if their homes are destroyed.
Such an event might include a flood, a tornado or a bioterrorism attack, said Cindy Smith, director of the Hill County Health Department. Smith serves on the Local Emergency Planning Committee - representatives of local organizations who meet monthly to discuss plans to deal with an emergency. The committee includes representatives from local law enforcement agencies, the city of Havre and Hill County, Havre Public Schools, and local utility providers.
Personnel and supplies would be handled by the county and the Bears Paw District of the American Red Cross, Smith said.
Hill County intends that the Havre High gym will be Havre's main shelter in the event of an emergency, according to an e-mail from Ron Knudson to HPS district clerk Ric Floren. Knudson is Hill County's disaster and emergency services coordinator.
Four other local schools and churches could also be used as satellite shelters, according to the e-mail, which was included in a packet of information given to Havre school board members.
Knudson was out of town this week and could not be reached for comment.
HPS has also agreed to use warehouse space in the old gym at the Robins Administration Building to temporarily store any emergency drugs that would be sent in from outside the county.
Vaccines or other needed drugs would be flown in from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta to Great Falls or Billings, and then brought by truck to the county, Smith said.
Under the plan approved by the Havre school board Tuesday night, any drugs or vaccines stored at the Robins building would be transported to the HHS gymnasium and administered there, Floren said.
The Havre school board voted 7-0 Tuesday night to to enter into the agreements with Hill County, and also to support a program training parents and staff how to make facilities as safe as possible from air contamination.
Floren, one of two district representatives on the Local Emergency Plan Committee, said the board's vote makes the district eligible to be reimbursed for the cost of emergency services if a disaster occurs.
According to Knudson's e-mail, the district could be reimbursed for physical damage to the building and food used in the shelter.
Costs to the district will be minimal, Floren said. The agreements mean the district will be responsible for providing some supplies like flashlights and batteries. HHS will also need some rewiring to support a county-owned generator that could be used to give the shelter power if the rest of the community was without power, he said. The district would not be responsible for paying for the generator or storing its fuel, Floren said.
Floren said the district has the manpower and equipment to handle the crates of drugs if they're needed.
The board's vote also authorized the district to join a communitywide project to educate community members and train district staff to make homes and schools as safe as possible in the event of airborne toxins like chemical or biological agents.
The strategy, called Shelter in Place, involves sealing windows with duct tape and plastic sheeting, having supplies like food, water and flashlights and a radio on hand, and staying put until the air outside is safe.
Its effectiveness depends on people staying in their homes and trusting that their children are safe in the school rather than rushing across town to get their children while there is still contamination in the air.
"You'd have to teach the parents that in an emergency event, that if the kids are safe at the school, don't come out," Smith said, adding that parents' first impulse is to go get their child, which can put parents and children in danger.
Shelter in Place will require the district to purchase some materials like plastic sheeting, duct tape, battery chargers and two-way radios, Floren said. It would also involve the district doing some drills to practice for an emergency.
The agreements with Havre Public Schools are the most recent of several agreements the county has made with entities in town, Smith said. Knudson is working on others as well, she said.
The county is required to have the plans in place so local organizations would be eligible to receive disaster assistance through the county, Smith said.
The planning process is an ongoing process that will last for several years, she said.
There will probably be a communitywide mock-disaster drill this summer, she said.