Everything’s Bigger in Texas: Maximizing Our Commitment to Safety in a Massive District
In this day and age, you wouldn’t dream of constructing a new building that doesn’t meet the fire code. Why do people expect it? Because safety codes save lives—they force people to think safety first.
But we all too often forget that there’s no government-mandated student safety code (at any level) that encompasses standards for safety that we, as stewards of public safety, can enforce. Our buildings and properties need to be secure from risks beyond fire and structural integrity. This is especially crucial when it comes to our kids. School districts have a responsibility to ensure their buildings, facilities, and properties are organized, operated, and protected in such a way that maximizes safety for students and staff.
At Northwest ISD, this idea of safety is big, and so is the area we cover.
A Far-Reaching Issue
Northwest ISD is unique in that our district spans 234 square miles. We're the third-largest landmass district in North Texas, behind Dallas and Weatherford. Our district covers portions of three counties and 14 communities. The sheer size of our district poses a unique challenge due to the number of governmental entities we partner with, especially when it comes to safety and security.
We coordinate and communicate with three county responders and potentially 14 other governmental agency responders, such as law enforcement, the fire department, emergency medical services, and utility and phone companies. That level of complexity often makes things difficult when trying to organize and coordinate emergency response protocols.
Safety has been a major part of my life, even before I joined Northwest ISD about 10 years ago. Before that, my career was in law enforcement. I spent many years as a juvenile investigator, working with the computer forensics support of the Secret Service to conduct undercover stings to remove children from exploitative situations online.
I later became a School Resource Officer (SRO) in one of Northwest’s schools. As the district expanded their safety program, they recruited me to join them. With my kids attending NISD schools, and my experience working within NISD schools, joining the district presented an opportunity to spend more quality time with my family and also take a hands-on role in keeping them, their peers, and the whole NISD community safe.
Northwest ISD was beginning to get recognized for its safety initiatives. In 2009, the Texas School Safety Center gave us an award for safe school programs and initiatives. Then, in 2010, we received national recognition for many of our safety protocols and procedures from the School Safety Advocacy Council. Since then, we've implemented even more best practices.
Everyone on the Same (Digital) Page
When I started on as Director last year, I knew I needed to streamline our safety documentation. Updating documents is challenging enough for one school, but in a district with 30 campuses, it can be a nightmare. Our old process was inefficient and required us to update safety plans by district, facility, and then again for each building. This process was slow, difficult to maintain, and could be unreliable.
I wanted to find an easier way to manage multiple buildings and to assist and oversee the campuses with their security and safety strategies. We had to ensure they executed these protocols, and help make it easier to log, maintain, and easily access the data.
Originally, we used software that was supposed to help us improve the documentation issues. It was frustratingly clunky. The user interface and user experience were terrible. I knew what I wanted in a tool that would help make our district as successful as possible, so we started to look for other solutions. Unfortunately, we didn’t find anything that seemed to fit our needs.
With no hope in sight, we actually considered building our own solution. Before we took that leap, however, one of our team members, Melissa, found NaviGate Prepared online and introduced me to the product.
My first thought was, “Wow, this does everything I was looking for.” I’d wanted something that focused specifically on the K-12 market and NaviGate Prepared hit just about every point we would need in order to be successful, including both end-user support and administrative oversight.
The NaviGate Prepared team moves fast and efficiently. After one initial phone call, they got the team together and came to do a demo with us, including all of our district leadership.
We loved what we saw and, after some inevitable back-and-forth, we got the green light to implement NaviGate Prepared.
Drilling Down to Core Usage
Before NaviGate Prepared, our solution wasn’t designed for schools. It was more of a law enforcement, first responder-type software that we’d used for the past three years. It was very cumbersome from the administrative side.
Pulling reports was not user-friendly. We would have to log in to every single campus to see whether or not they completed their drills. We could run a report and extract it into an Excel spreadsheet, but then we’d have to sort through the data. Since we constantly receive requests for our drilling data, this was a massive burden.
I love how phenomenally easy it is to schedule, manage, and then run either a daily, monthly, or year-end report with NaviGate Prepared. I can go into the platform and, in a couple of clicks, convert our files to PDF and send it out. That's a very simple piece of what they do, but I can’t even describe the hours that we save with NaviGate Prepared at a corporate level.
We feel we’re living up to our accountability role. With NaviGate Prepared, we can reach out to our campuses sooner to remind them to complete, reschedule, or log their drills on time.
Our campus admins now have a centralized dashboard, and they can schedule the year’s 600+ drills right away in one sitting, along with automatic drill reminders. Completing drills becomes a smooth process, saving them time and frustration.
As you can tell, drills were a major focus for us last year. This year, we're adding the Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). We're doing a slow roll-out, ensuring full understanding and awareness of each piece as we execute.
Unexpected Benefits: A Universal Tool
Mapping is another major part of the platform. The team at NaviGate Prepared came in and gave us a 360-degree map of every square foot of the building. We use mapping quite closely with the EOP, using the Safety Plan Wizard to quickly and easily complete a compliance plan. We answer some questions and a couple of hours later, the plan is packaged into a PDF, uploaded online to be searchable, and we’re on to the next thing.
The first responder portal is amazing. We just create a login for those first responders, and they can see the floor plans and the locations of fire pull stations, fire extinguishers, fire hookups, and whatever it is they might be looking for.
Obviously, this tool will be incredibly useful in an emergency, but we’ve also found an unorthodox use for it. We work under the facilities umbrella in Northwestern ISD. Our Facilities Department uses the 360-degree maps almost daily. They reference the images in meetings with construction workers when they’re building additions, and when a campus requests something like a new door or classroom upgrade. It’s become not only essential for safety and security, but also a daily tool for our facilities department.
The Ultimate Goal: Ubiquitous Use, District-Wide
We're currently fine-tuning some of our other facility plans that we previously didn’t have the time or energy to pursue. Now that we have NaviGate Prepared, we can add facilities such as our football stadium. We’re able to concentrate on more of our properties, extending our safety protocols beyond educational buildings to all facilities. We even have a test campus where we implement and fine-tune each step of the process first, before rolling it out at the rest of our locations. At the end of three years, we’ll be full steam ahead.
Our ultimate goal is to use every piece of the NaviGate Prepared software and to make safety and preparedness technology the norm in every classroom in our district. I'd like to see every teacher, administrator, and building staff member have the app on their phone.
I want NaviGate Prepared to be as essential to our faculty as a fire extinguisher. We’re a little ways away from that reality, but it’s where we’re headed.
The biggest impact is going to be in our communication. Clear, precise communication is important when you're dealing with a safety event. If you have an app that everyone uses and trusts, then you can push that information out to them. The speed of correct information through an event is vitally important. And with the right tools, it’ll be seamless.
Despite the challenges that come with a district of our size, we are committed to making safety for our students and staff a top priority. If security is a part of your obligations, I cannot overstate NaviGate Prepared’s time-saving and ease-of-use software. When an organization is large, it’s easy for the complexity to lead to complacency. But safety won’t fall by the wayside. Not in our district.