Monday 22 December 2014

Exams: Schools take lesson from havoc of Storm Darwin

New contingency planning arrangements are being drawn up to help schools respond to severe weather conditions.

It follows the confusion in communities last winter when Storm Darwin wreaked havoc along the west and south coasts and left schools to work out their own arrangements.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has confirmed that his officials are in consultation with Government Task Force on Emergency Planning and the Department of Defence about developing new protocols.

He said his officials were due to meet with the management bodies for the primary and post-primary sector to review the issues and identify which measures should be put in place.

The minister acknowledged that while long-term weather forecasts were much better, and there was now a more advanced red alert system, "we have not upgraded the system in terms of school decision-making".

The matter was raised with Mr Quinn by Fine Gael TD Patrick O'Donovan of Limerick, one of the regions ravaged by the storms.

He said that in the 24 hours running up to Storm Darwin, there was a major lack of information available to parents and teachers.

He added that while there may be Department of Education guidelines on such emergencies, they are "inadequate ".

Mr O'Donovan said the department's circular on the matter offered little advice.

Miracle

"That is not really much good in the situation we saw on February 12, where debris of every description was flying through the air, third level colleges were sending text messages to their students and staff to say that they were going into lock-down, and staff and principals of schools, particularly primary schools, were left to their own devices to figure out what they should do," he said.

He said "the lack of a joined-up approach to planning for emergencies is very obvious and must be addressed. It is a miracle that many people did not lose their lives in the storm".

Mr O'Donovan called for a single protocol for all schools, and one of the first issues to be established was whether schools should open at all when a status red weather warning was issued and, if not, how that message could be communicated in a timely and effective manner.

Mr O'Donovan has welcomed Mr Quinn's commitment to work with schools "to establish proper protocols" in the event of severe weather conditions.

Irish Independent

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