In a press conference at the Emergency Operations Center Tuesday, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced the city’s plans to use $494,746 in newly acquired funds to systematically implement crisis management in New Haven public and private schools.

The New Haven school district was one of three districts in Connecticut and over 100 nationally to be awarded $28.6 million in total federal grants from the U.S. Department of Education. The money was allocated to strengthen emergency preparation and response plans in both public and private schools.

“The implementation of coherent safety measures is fundamental to our kids feeling safe,” DeStefano said. “[The grant] is an acknowledgment that schools are a safer place.”

DeStefano said the funds will be used to establish an Office of Emergency Preparedness and Incident Command Center. Officials also developed a Virtual Emergency Data Disk, containing a simulated 3-D model of each school’s floor plan, which they demonstrated at the conference.

New Haven Police Chief Francisco Ortiz, who was also in attendance, said both the events of Sept. 11 and the siege of a school in North Ossetia, Russia made safety a priority. He said the city will indirectly use the grant to address issues relating to both national threats such as biological and chemical terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and nuclear disasters, as well as community safety threats like school violence.

“Though this is a continuation of the city’s investment on children, securing schools provides a layer of insulation,” Ortiz said. “In the case of any event, we can move people into the schools.”

These objectives will be accomplished by targeting four key areas: mitigation, preparation, response and recovery actions to strengthen the city’s emergency response infrastructure and to build capacity to contain crisis incidents.

“We want to bring children a sense of security and physical well being,” New Haven Fire Chief Michael Grant said.

The federal grants are under the jurisdiction of the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, which supports efforts to create safe schools, to respond to crises, to prevent drug and alcohol abuse and to ensure the health and well being of students.

“We have been privileged to have the opportunity to expand the security measures already in place and put into action measures we’ve been discussing,” DeStefano said.

The Emergency Response and Crisis Management program supports local school districts’ efforts to improve and strengthen school emergency response and crisis management plans, including training school personnel and students in emergency response procedures.

Under the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind education reforms, local school districts must provide evidence that they have plans outlining efforts to keep their schools safe and drug-free.

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