East Coast hurricane, California wildfire, Gilroy shooting shines spotlight on district partners

The southeastern U.S. avoided the catastrophic fate of the Bahamas this month as Hurricane Dorian tracked off the coast of Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas before turning eastward into the open Atlantic. Still, Florida weather is known for its unpredictability where severe weather has the potential to mean natural disaster.

At school districts across Florida, preparing for a hurricane means school cancelations and the management of a range of operational tasks such as repurposing school buildings as evacuation shelters or creating temporary headquarters for governmental relief services like FEMA.

The logistics involved with these preparations pile up fast so moving quickly is critical when storm path projections show your district in harm's way. This year, Hurricane Dorian chose Labor Day Weekend for its arrival so district personnel were forced to exchange holiday plans for unplanned work days.

Yet some districts had larger workloads than others. For the districts partnered with Facilitron, a new kind of facility management solution for school districts, an entire team was already in place primed to spring into action to help manage facility logistics.

"It’s very comforting knowing that you have business partners that have your back like that." Ralph Caravello, Risk Management Coordinator at Seminole County Florida

"Two words for you—simple solution," said Ralph Caravello, Risk Management Coordinator at Seminole County Florida. "I just hit the ‘simple' button and alerted our account manager and everything was handled. That allowed me to concentrate on other more important Hurricane prep items.”

A range of school and community events scheduled at nearly every one of the district’s 67 schools were cancelled, community organizations were notified, and refunds were issued. Where appropriate, Facilitron even worked with community groups to reschedule events for future dates.

"It’s very comforting knowing that you have business partners that have your back like that. It’s a warm and fuzzy feeling," Caravello said.

It’s this kind of private/public partnership that has allowed the district to recover close to $1M in direct operational costs in less than one year.

But hurricanes aren’t the only disruptive events that have an effect on school districts. Just a few days after Hurricane Dorian moved into the North Atlantic, the Tenaja Fire in Southern California was threatening Murrieta Valley and Facilitron partner Murrieta Valley Unified School District. Schools were cancelled and an evacuation shelter was set up at Murrieta Mesa High School after the Riverside County Fire Department ordered evacuations in the area.

"We sent one email to Facilitron and they notified all our renters that their facility use would need to be cancelled," said Lori Noorigian, Director of Facilities at Murrieta Valley Unified. "Many hours saved on our end."

Disruptive events affecting school districts happen more often than you might expect. Wintertime cancellations from snow or extreme cold are common at districts such as Facilitron partner Columbus City Schools. And in Gilroy California, the recent shooting at this year's annual Gilroy Garlic Festival led to the district's instant involvement in the response conducted by law enforcement.

Relying on partners in times of crisis

Reacting to the gunfire, panicked festival goers fled the scene in all directions with some ending up at nearby schools adjacent to the festival. Within minutes, the city of Gilroy called for the activation of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) from where leaders made arrangements for a Red Cross shelter, crisis center, and a reunification site.

"Facilitron became an integral part of the process by providing a birds-eye view of the school district buildings, fields, and locations easily accessible through the website," said Cheryl Galloway, Community Engagement Manager at Gilroy Unified School District.

Quickly and efficiently, gyms and classrooms were booked and buses were called to relocate people to the appropriate spots—including the facility chosen for the Red Cross shelter and an area booked for law enforcement to conduct interviews with eyewitnesses.

"Facilitron became an integral part of the process..."Cheryl Galloway

The following morning, Facilitron account managers continued to assist the district by rerouting and rescheduling preplanned events, contacting renter organizations, and working with Incident Command to book additional locations for counseling and to set up a fully functional family assistance center with the FBI.

“We continued to use Facilitron for the next two weeks,” Galloway continued, "not only as the booking platform for six school sites involved in the response, but also to help the EOC calculate the cost of using the schools in hopes of receiving reimbursement from the state.”

It’s a key part of the relationship that Facilitron aims to develop with its district partners— becoming an extension of the district, and even more than that, striving to combine best practices from around the country with district goals.

"It’s really a new kind of public/private partnership when you can align the goals of the district with the goals of the business partner," Caravello said. "It’s changing how we think about our business relationships."