Photo by Brian Ray
Students flood through the front doors of Steamboat Springs High School after classes are dismissed on Wednesday afternoon. A school safety task force was formed Tuesday to coordinate preparedness plans for Routt County schools.
Steamboat Springs A new school safety task force aimed at coordinating preparedness plans for Routt County was formed Tuesday at a roundtable with school and law enforcement officials and the Routt County Board of Commissioners.
A pending piece of state legislation, Senate Bill 181, would require Colorado schools to adopt a response plan for school safety incidents that aligns with the National Incident Management System - a framework developed by the federal Department of Homeland Security. While most schools already have plans in place for such emergencies, the bill has prompted a closer look at county-wide coordination for school preparedness.
The task force aims to bring together officials from Routt County's three school districts, its private schools, Colorado Mountain College and all county law enforcement agencies.
Each school is familiar with its own plan, but no one has experience in trying to coordinate between districts, Hayden School District Superintendent Mike Luppes said.
The Steamboat Springs Police Department has worked closely with the Steamboat Springs School District on its disaster and incident plans and keeps students and law enforcement officers on their toes with quarterly lock-down drills and annual training exercises at each campus, Capt. Joel Rae said.
The police department also has worked with the Routt County Sheriff's Office, because Steamboat Springs Middle School and Strawberry Park Elementary School are outside city limits and thus outside police jurisdiction, Rae said.
Any significant school event in Northwest Colorado, such as an active shooter incident, would have a regional response, Rae said. However, if Steamboat Springs police were called to assist at a large-scale incident elsewhere in Routt County, its officers would be in the dark.
"Lockdown procedures do not need to be the same from Oak Creek to Strawberry Park and Hayden, but they do need to be similar," Rae said.
Everyone knows what's going on in their district or their jurisdiction, but the connections in between are what's missing, and the new task force aims to fix that, County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said.
The problems facing the development of the task force primarily are cost and authority, Routt County Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale said.
The county failed to win a grant to cover the cost of coordinating the effort and completing risk assessments, and the full-time employee the original draft of Senate Bill 181 called for has been eliminated, County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.
"The state of Colorado is saying this is going to cost them absolutely nothing - so we all know what that means," Stahoviak said.
The still-unnamed task force will be temporarily headed by Undersheriff David Bustos. At the suggestion of Steamboat Springs School District Interim Superintendent Sandra Smyser, public health officials also may be invited to join and weigh in on pandemic flu and disease outbreak scenarios.