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Wildfires Shut Down Independent Schools in Southern California

By Net Assets posted 12-08-2017 05:24 PM

Above: the Skirball Fire on December 6, shortly after it started. Photo credit: Bd1983.

Risk Management |

updated December 11 | As the massive wildfires in southern California continue to burn, hundreds of schools remain closed, including some that had been designated as safe havens for others. Among recent responses, the Thacher School, a boarding school in Los Padres National Forest east of Santa Barbara, evacuated to the Cate School, another independent boarding school closer to the ocean. Within two days, however, Cate School had to evacuate as well. "We are currently displaced as our school (and our neighbors!) are right in the middle of one of the mandatory evacuation zones," said Sandi Pearce, Cate's assistant head of finace and operations (and a member of the NBOA Board of Directors), in an email on Saturday. 

Earlier last week, we spoke with David Marcus, campus business manager at de Toledo High School in Los Angeles. "With five major fires, close to 100,000 acres burning, and only 5 percent containment, we and everyone else including parents and employees are affected by it," he said. "UCLA is closed, people are walking around with face masks — it's kind of surreal." The Skirball fire shut down part of the 405 freeway, a major artery in the city, and consequently many independent schools around it have evacuated. Fueled by high winds and dry conditions, several major blazes are still far from contained.

Collaborative efforts among independent schools in the area include convening via webinar to discuss which institutions are in need of assistance and which can help, according to Marcus. The schools met in similar fashion in October to assist northern California schools following widespread fires in that region and then realized they needed to pool resources closer to home. "What happens if everything is burning?" asked Marcus. 




12-21-2017 11:05 AM

Thanks for weighing in, @Jane Carney (and congratulations on your coming retirement!). Shortly after posting this article, we spoke with @Martha Ambros of Cal-ISBOA, who shared some terrific info about the organization’s great work during the fire crisis. We look forward to sharing her insights on emergency response protocols, as well as those of others in the independent school community, in an upcoming full-length feature in the magazine.​​

12-19-2017 08:25 PM

I want to add to David Marcus' remarks regarding collaboration efforts by California schools. Our state-wide business officers's association, Cal-ISBOA, was instrumental in coordinating these efforts and partnering with Joffe Emergency Services to provide webinars, sometimes twice a day, to disseminate information on preparing and acting to the fires. California schools learned a lot from the fires earlier this fall in the Wine Country and those more recently in  Southern California, and realize that we need to continue to find ways to help schools communicate during times of crisis. We have made a good start, however, we still have much to learn.

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