St. Francis — The National Weather Service has recognized the St. Francis School District as a national leader in weather safety, earning it a StormReady Supporter designation.

The StormReady Supporter program is part of the larger StormReady program, a grass roots program designed to help communities establish severe weather safety plans and actively promote weather awareness. StormReady communities are deemed to have made a strong commitment to implement the infrastructure and systems needed to save lives and protect property when severe weather strikes.

StormReady is a voluntary program that focuses on communication, mitigation and community preparedness to save lives.  Today, more than 2,500 StormReady communities and over 700 StormReady Supporters throughout the nation help residents become better prepared for severe weather. The steps taken by the school district enhance safety from weather events on and around school grounds during the school day; at athletic events, practices; and park and recreation programs.

“Every facility should develop and implement an emergency plan for protecting employees, visitors, contractors and anyone else in the facility” when developing an emergency response plan, says Ready.gov, a website tied to the effort.

One of 20 nationally

The St. Francis School District followed this advice with a complete review of facilities and procedures regarding all weather.  This review ended with NOAA and the National Weather Service recognizing St. Francis as meeting the standards of StormReady Supporter.

St. Francis is the second school district in Wisconsin designated StormReady Supporter.  Shorewood School District attained designation in 2015.

Fewer than 20 school districts in the United States are StormReady Supporters.

“The parents of students within the St. Francis School District should be very happy with the steps the district has taken to ensure the safety of the students there,” said Tim Halbach, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Milwaukee.

Safer at school

Weather safety for schools is paramount in Wisconsin as severe weather is most likely to occur in the afternoon, when children are traveling home or out on sports fields with little supervision and even less support.

Clearly identifying threats, establishing multiple lines of communication and creating a plan of action provides the St. Francis School District with resiliency and the ability to quickly act, officials say.

“We take every precaution to ensure the safety of our students as we take the trust of parents to keep all students safe very seriously," said Jonathan Mitchell, business manager for the school district. “This work to become a StormReady School District, along with ongoing feedback help the district reach the highest levels of safety preparedness for our school community.”

Money saver

According to Paul Kirshen, a research professor at the University of New Hampshire, investments in weather preparation cost local governments significantly less than recovery. FEMA states that businesses and communities with comprehensive mitigation plans experience less damage and experience a shorter recovery time in returning to normal and full operation.

Even state and federal governments are sometimes overwhelmed in large natural catastrophes; like Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Small businesses and communities are at even more risk.

Mitigating weather risk with a weather hazard plan can mean the difference between survival and shuttering as nearly 40 percent of all small businesses never reopen after a natural catastrophe, officials say.

The St. Francis School District has taken the steps to increase safety on all of their campuses with federal recognition. Additional benefits include lowering litigation exposure to weather events and improving their attractiveness to insurance companies when purchasing Liability, Property and Workers Comp Insurance.

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