While recently enacted legislation P.L.2009 c.178 (A-3002 / S-2518) govern school fire and security drills fire-code regulations associated with school fire drills which do not address security drills will not be amended before the November 1 effective date of the new law. This will result in a conflict between the fire code and the statute and may require districts to continue complying with both the law and regulation.
Conflict of Law & Code
The new law requires public and non-public schools to conduct one monthly school security drill and one monthly fire drill in comparison to two fire drills in order to improve emergency preparedness in schools. The law defines a school security drill as ” an exercise other than a fire drill to practice procedures that respond to an emergency situation including but not limited to a non-fire evacuation lockdown or active shooter situation and that is similar in duration to a fire drill.”
Schools are required to conduct a minimum of two drills per year in each of the following areas: active shooter; evacuations; bomb threats; and lockdowns. Two of these eight mandated drills do not need to include students. The legislation also amends current law to allow public school teachers to lock doors and exits during a simulated emergency lockdown drill.
Unfortunately while the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety’s Bureau of Fire Code Enforcement released a memorandum on Aug. 12 to all local fire code officials strongly recommending that local fire code official enforce the intent of the law and proposed code amendment and immediately accept one fire drill a month local fire officals are not required to do so.
The memorandum was a recommendation and a local fire code official may decide to enforce the letter of the code which would require the local school district to continue with the two fire drills per month even after Nov. 1. In such cases a school may need to continue with two fire drills each month to comply with the fire code – and a school security drill each month to comply with law. It is recommended that schools contact their local fire code official for clarification.
NJDOE Guidance on the New Law
The New Jersey Department of Education issued guidance July 14 on new drill requirements for schools pursuant to enactment of P.L.2009 c.178 (NJDOE Releases Guidance on School Security Drills July 21 2010). The new security drill requirement should mirror the procedures for responding to emergencies as outlined in the School Administrator Procedures: Responding to Critical Incidents that was provided in October 2007. Schools will need to coordinate with local emergency responders to update safety and security plans as well as procedures for drilling managing and responding to school emergencies.
Questions on the guidance provided by the Department can be directed to: Deborah Bleisnick or Deborah Dunne at (609) 633-6681 or firstname.lastname@example.org.