Steve King’s School Safety Bill

I sent the below e-mail today to my State Legislator, Steve King, regarding his proposed bill on school safety for the legislative session that begins in January. The annotations via web links were added by me after the fact.

In researching this, I found that there’s a lot going on that is good to know about, and illustrates some of the thinking going on at the state level.

I’d also like to thank Jeff Kirtland at District 51 for speaking with me, and providing valuable information regarding the district’s obligations to respect student privacy, and the required disclosure of information to law enforcement in emergency situations. These obligations are to federal law, and don’t have a great deal of relevance to any state-initiated efforts to improve information sharing as it relates to school safety and incident management.

___________________________________________________

Rep. King:

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me earlier this week concerning your proposed bill for the upcoming legislative session, the Critical Incident School Safety Act of 2009.

As an interested constituent and parent with an extensive background in Public Safety and Emergency Management, I agree with your assertion that every educational institution, regardless of size or age group served, needs to be able to effectively implement an emergency response plan that addresses elements critical to maintaining security, accountability, and consistency in its’ application.

You had stated to me in our conversation that you wanted your bill to achieve the following goals:
  • Become the first state in the union to require that the aforementioned safety strategies be applied across the educational spectrum, from preschool through higher education.
  • Facilitate the ability for teachers to be able to conduct a functional lockdown.
  • Require regular drills of the school emergency plan.
  • Be able to address an active threat through processes that would touch the entire campus of a school or university, over the entire day or time period that classes are in session.
  • Create a foundation of safety-oriented personnel and processes within all educational environments.
You stated that you wanted to keep the bill’s requirements simple, so that they could be implemented with relative ease. You also stated that you wanted to avoid making the bill’s requirements so cumbersome that they resulted in too large of a fiscal impact, or so onerous to administrators that they would resist these requirements.

After our conversation, I reviewed two bills signed into law by Gov. Ritter in the last legislative session that would complement some of what you are trying to achieve. One is SB-181, which you referred me to, which requires schools to integrate the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and multi-disciplinary stakeholders into their emergency planning and staff education processes.

The other is SB-001, which established the Colorado School Safety Resource Center (CSSRC), intended to be a clearinghouse for schools across the state to obtain and share information on school safety processes and strategies.

I believe that your proposed bill will help to assure that the efforts put forth by your fellow legislators in the last session can be applied on a uniform, coordinated, and practical basis. I would like to offer some additional suggestions that I believe will help to make the bill as comprehensive as possible without establishing requirements that are unwieldy, draconian or fiscally unsound. These are:
  • Mandatory Notification of 9-1-1: Should an emergency incident occur that requires an immediate response of resources over and above that which is immediately available on the school campus (including School Resource Officers), the school will report the incident and/or request those resources through the most simple, direct, and reliable way available; calling 9-1-1, and providing the necessary information (as available) to the professionals on the other end of the line. This helps to assure mobilization of resources in accordance with local emergency plans, notification of involved stakeholders according to plan, quick establishment of unified command, and written and recorded documentation of the public safety response.
In my career I have observed too many attempts by school personnel to mitigate emergencies by using surreptitious or ‘back door’ methods of notifying public safety personnel, in an attempt to keep the incident out of the public eye, thus avoiding media and/or parental attention. This has the unfortunate effect of distracting the focus of Incident Management efforts, and is a largely futile waste of energy, as any student with a cell phone is likely to succeed in communicating incident information to parents or others.
  • Best Practices sharing through CSSRC – As CSSRC begins its’ programs through the selected pilot sites, collect information on Emergency Plan development strategies and other information that can be shared with districts across the state.
  • Drill / Incident reporting and compliance mechanism – Revise any existing statewide emergency incident and/or drill reporting mechanism to include documentation of successes, failures, and the incident management structure applied. State to compile data to monitor trends and compliance with the requirements of this bill, as well as the NIMS requirements of SB-181. Reports provided to the schools and the public on an annual basis.
Best wishes for making your proposed bill a viable and relevant component of achieving safe educational environments across Colorado. Please feel free to contact me with any additional questions or information needs. Thanks for your time and consideration.

John L. Linko
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