O.C. schools’ disaster plans panned

Times Staff Writer

A majority of Orange County schools don’t have plans in place to adequately deal with a wide range of disasters, a county grand jury reported Wednesday.

Among the shortcomings cited were “skeletal” plans that dealt with only fires and “earthquake duck-and-cover” strategies and poor communication between district administrators and individual schools.

County schools Supt. William Habermehl said the findings were “surprising” given the increased scrutiny school and public safety officials have given such plans in recent years.


“We will take a good hard look at exactly where we are and the details they have and find out either where they missed, or what additional work we need to do,” he said.

The grand jury reviewed disaster-response plans for 27 districts and 58 campuses. It found 44% of the districts and nearly two-thirds of the schools failed the panel’s expectations.

Some school officials criticized the findings, saying the grand jury’s criteria weren’t clear and its recommendations vague.

“We feel it was not an accurate depiction,” said Alan Trudell, spokesman for Garden Grove Unified. “It would have been very helpful to identify areas needing improvement” in the district’s plan, which the grand jury said was lacking.

Capistrano Unified’s plan, also found lacking by the grand jury, has been recognized as a model by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and recently received an award from the American Red Cross.

“What’s reflected in the report is inaccurate and it would be unfortunate if people who live in the community think that it reflects our capacity to respond to an emergency, because it doesn’t,” said Beverly de Nicola, a district spokeswoman.


At the Westminster School District, which also received failing marks, officials said they began upgrading their disaster plans before the grand jury began its inquiry.

The district recently secured a $218,280 federal grant to hire a full-time safety specialist and install GPS-tracking devices in school buses among other improvements, said spokeswoman Trish Montgomery.