Safety event prepares students, parents for the worst at Nevada Union High School |

Safety event prepares students, parents for the worst at Nevada Union High School

Superintendent of Schools Scott Lay talks at Tuesday's safety event at Nevada Union High School.
Sam Corey/


In cases of emergency you can contact the following departments:

Police, Fire, Ambulance: 911

Child Welfare Services: 530-273-4291

Community Beyond Violence: 530-272-2046

Nevada County Children’s Behavioral Health: 530-470-2736

Substance Abuse Support, Community Recovery Resources: 530-273-9541

Psychologists say the desire for safety has been evolutionarily hardwired into our brains. With the rise of climate catastrophes and mass shootings, schools, including those in Nevada County, are working to keep students safe.

Nevada Union High School’s auditorium was filled Tuesday with concerned parents, and a swath of safety leaders in the community, discussing best safety practices for a myriad of unsafe situations. One quarter of the stage was filled with police officers, firemen, the county sheriff, and school safety administrators all focused on three ways to avoid danger: prevention, education and, when threat ensues, situational awareness.

“One thing about planning in an emergency, nothing goes as planned,” said Lt. George Steffenson, commander of the Grass Valley area California Highway Patrol.

Safety in Nevada County’s schools is not a novel concept for local and state officials. Administrators organize a group called Community Agencies United for Safe Schools and Safe Streets in monthly closed-door sessions to discuss threats in the community, best safety practices, and optimal ways to communicate with, and educate, the public. Much like Tuesday’s event, the county’s “who’s who” in safety attend these meetings.

“Around the table is probation, Child Protective Services, public health, law enforcement, fire services — school administrators from each school site are represented there,” said Chris Espedal, district director of school safety.

Espedal has been visiting different schools, preparing administrators and faculty for the “what ifs” when a disaster, like a forest fire, is within striking distance of a school while school is in session.


Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Sean Scales wants parents to talk openly with their children in preparation of catastrophes.

“It will be controlled chaos,” said Scales, referring to law enforcement’s response when crises occur at schools. “And you will have to be prepared for that.”

When a crisis does occur, the sergeant warned parents to do — and not do — a few things. “Number one is going to be to stay calm,” he said. Scales also asked parents to wait for instruction from the school; don’t flood schools with extra bodies, and clog the roads; arrive safely and don’t speed; and inform oneself of alternate road routes. As a backup, the sergeant suggested buying a map — and not to exclusively rely on the one on your phone.

Espedal added that parents should avoid calling into the school, explaining that their calls will block the necessary lines of communication between school administrators, faculty and law enforcement.

“We need open roads and open airways,” Espedal told the audience.


In recent years, schools have been partnering with law enforcement to keep students safe from a number of threats including kidnappings and hostage situations, wildfires, road safety, mass shootings, drug abuse and more.

Emergency management has been a critical aspect of school administration’s work, said Espedal, which is a rather new phenomenon, especially with the rise of climate change and its subsequent disasters, and mass shootings.

“That new element of emergency management has been a result of our changing world,” said Espedal, adding that education and structured processes can help defend against catastrophe.

The school safety district director says that we need to be teaching students, and parents, how to best logically and emotionally handle chaotic situations.

“Teaching our students to be aware, not afraid, aware,” Espedal said, is the key to safety. “And there’s a difference between fear and situational awareness, and I think that’s a really important skill set to empower our children with.”

Espedal said students should enroll in the Community Emergency Response Team programs taking place at Nevada Union, Bear River and Ghidotti Early College high schools to prepare for possible threats. The safety program, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, allows students to get hands-on training for when crises emerge, Espedal said.

Contact Staff Writer Sam Corey at 530-477-4219 or

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