Skip to main content
Reimagining Safety Drills

Schools examine all aspects of safety preparedness

Working in close cooperation with Tonawanda City School District and their local fire department, Dennis Kwaczala is helping the district pilot a new type of drill. Pictured here, Kwaczala, of Erie 1 BOCES, meets with Tonawanda Fireman Brandon McGuire, Fire Chief Charles Stuart, Cpt. Josh Lapham and Cpt. Jeff State.February 14, 2018 was a turning point for many districts around the country. In Western New York, Dennis Kwaczala has seen the focus move back to security following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Kwaczala’s job as senior coordinator for Health,

Safety & Risk Management at Erie 1 BOCES means he works with 23 area districts to try to prevent the same from happening here.

“The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School started another push for security. We have had a busy spring helping schools update their emergency plans, conduct drills, train staff and get the best value from Safe School grants and capital projects,” Kwaczala said.

Amidst other trends, safety drills have been a major focus for districts.

“The state requires four lockdown drills a year, but the question we have been working with our districts to answer is, ‘how can we vary the drills so they don’t become routine and provide a better training experience in responding to emergencies?’ That goes for every level – elementary, middle and high school,” he said.

In addition to that, Kwaszala has been working to pilot two new school safety initiatives. In Tonawanda, he has been working to develop a new type of fire drill.

“There is a vulnerability in the type of fire drills we practice now. When the fire alarm is triggered, we train students and staff to leave their classrooms immediately. An active shooter could use that against them,” he said. “We are working on a drill that combines aspects of a lockdown with a fire drill by delaying evacuation until there is an all clear signal. Building design and the sophistication of alarm systems mean a fire can be visually identified in a few minutes, still giving students enough time to safely evacuate.”

He noted this type of drill is not compliant with New York Fire Code and requires close cooperation with the local fire department to test it. If a protocol is established and found to be safe and effective, Kwaczala said he hopes it can be used as a model to help revise the fire code at the state level.

“The fire code was created to prevent death by fire and since 1954 it has worked very well for that purpose. However, times have changed and the present drill procedure presents a vulnerability from a different type of danger, that of an active shooter,” he explained.

The changing times require a closer relationship between schools, police and fire departments. The change to plain language for safety plans in the 2007 SAVE legislation update, was a tremendous improvement in responding to emergencies, Kwaczala said. Now, he wants to take it a step further.

“The State Education Department requires districts to submit updated school safety plans each year, but these are only accessible to the New York State Police. For the past two years, I have been working to pilot placing a few schools’ building emergency plans on Erie County’s emergency management system that houses the plans for every municipality in Erie County and is accessible to local, county and state police as well as fire departments. Eventually, we hope to be able to bring it to NYSED as a model to use across the state,” he said.

Working in close cooperation with Tonawanda City School District and their local fire department, Dennis Kwaczala is helping the district pilot a new type of drill. Pictured here, Kwaczala, of Erie 1 BOCES, meets with Tonawanda Fireman Brandon McGuire, Fire Chief Charles Stuart, Cpt. Josh Lapham and Cpt. Jeff State.

< Back  |  View All Articles