Although Section 2(10) of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 includes school districts in the definition of “local government,” both the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) indicate that School districts are not required by federal or state law to adopt a policy requiring NIMS compliance.  Rather, a school district’s use of NIMS (National Incident Management System) should be achieved in close coordination with other components of the local government.  The exceptions noted by the U.S. Departments of Education and Homeland Security, are when a school district has a police department or when a school district has accepted federal emergency/disaster preparedness funds (e.g., through the Federal Emergency Response & Crisis Management, or ERCM, grant program).  Grants through the Safe Schools Program are not for emergency/disaster preparedness such as the Federal Emergency Response and Crisis Management Grant Program.  Therefore, your District’s receipt of the Safe Schools grants would not, in themselves, impose a requirement for the District to be NIMS compliant.  However, although your District may not immediately be required to adopt a Resolution requiring NIMS compliance, it is advisable for Districts to do so in that NIMS compliance will likely be a requirement for school districts pursuing federal emergency/disaster funds in the future.

Although the School District may not be required to adopt a NIMS Resolution, all component municipalities of the School District are required to adopt Resolutions and/or Ordinances establishing NIMS as the standard for all emergency management incidents occurring within that municipality.  Also, if there is a school facility located within that municipality, the Emergency Plan of that municipality must address the needs and safeguard the security of the school personnel and students at the facility in the event of an emergency situation.  The position of FEMA and PEMA are that the District’s use of NIMS should be achieved in close coordination with the local municipalities.  Further, in published comments in the March 1, 2006 Edition of the Federal Register, the United States Department of Education indicated that a school district’s NIMS compliance must be achieved in close coordination with the local government and with recognition of the first responder capabilities held by the school district and the local government.  As school districts are not traditional response organizations, first responder services will typically be provided to school districts by local fire and rescue departments, emergency medical service providers, and law enforcement agencies.  This traditional relationship must be acknowledged in achieving NIMS compliance in an integrated NIMS compliance plan for the local government and each school district.  The U.S. Department of Education recommends that school district participation in the NIMS preparedness program of the local government is essential in ensuring that first responder services are delivered to schools in a timely and effective manner.  For a school district, the degree to which the school district has a “role in emergency preparedness” is based on the nature, depth and breadth of the agreements made with local emergency response agencies to support the regional community safety plan.  If the school district’s safety plan only addresses actions taken on school property with limited involvement of community agencies, it is likely that the district has no formal role in emergency preparedness.  If, however, the school district’s safety plan or the regional safety plan involves schools providing assistance to others (e.g., neighborhoods) requiring mutual aid, there is a formal role for schools in the preparedness process.  Therefore, each District should obtain and review the emergency plans of each component municipality, as well as each municipality’s Resolution and/or Ordinance which requires NIMS as the standard in all emergency management incidents occurring in that municipality.  If issues of concern arise in the manner in which the local municipality has addressed emergency management incidents in relation to the school facilities, the District should raise those concerns with the Emergency Management Coordinator for that municipality.  In addition, although not required, it may be advisable for the District adopt its own Resolution to be NIMS compliant.

To protect the interests of the School District in the event that the District must pursue federal emergency/disaster funds in the future, the District should develop a timeline for NIMS compliant training for appropriate school personnel.  The timeline should, to the maximum extent possible, have the necessary school officials complete the IS-700 NIMS Introductory Course and all other recommended NIMS courses over a designated timeframe.  The following guidelines are suggested for the school officials who should complete the indicated NIMS courses:

Course Content School Officials Who Should Complete the Course
IS 700 Overview of NIMS and the Incident Command System All school administrators who are responsible for student welfare, safety, or emergency response at both the district and building levels
IS 800 Overview of the National Response Plan, federal ESF’s, & how federal and local governments interact in disasters All “personnel whose primary responsibility is emergency management” or safety/security; school districts should have at least one administrator trained at this level.
ICS 100 Overview of the Incident Command System, including roles & responsibilities of different responders Personnel who are involved in the Incident Command structure, coordinating with emergency responders during an incident; this typically includes principals, assistant principals, security officers, custodians, office managers, school nurses and similar district officials
ICS 200 More detailed review of ICS as it relates to complex incidents Same as ICS 800

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has also reported the availability of a web-based IS-100.SC Introduction to the Incident Command System, I-100, course, for Schools.  This NIMS-compliant course can be accessed through the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) Independent Study website at:  The course was developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education.

This course is a comprehensive introduction to Incident Command System (ICS) tailored for school situations.  It will familiarize participants with how the Incident Command System can be applied in school-based incidents and how school personnel can interface with community response personnel during a multi-jurisdiction, multi-agency, multi-discipline incident.  The course is designed primarily for kindergarten through high school personnel who have preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation roles and responsibilities for school emergencies.

In conclusion, to assure that your District is NIMS compliant, the following steps should be followed: (1) the School District should adopt a Resolution to achieve NIMS compliance; (2) the School District should request and review the Emergency Management Plans, and NIMS adopting Resolutions and/or Ordinances from all component municipalities comprising the School District, and if necessary open a dialogue with the Emergency Management Coordinators of each municipality to insure that the emergency management needs of the school facilities are appropriately addressed in the Emergency Management Plans; and (3) establish a NIMS training timeline after identifying the school officials who should attain the appropriate level of NIMS training.

Alfred C. Maiello
Alfred Maiello

Alfred C. Maiello is the founding member of MBM and has represented area school districts as solicitor for 50 years. He counsels school districts and educational institutions on leading developments in school law and guiding them through their day-to-day and long-term challenges.