True Leadership

Though the media regularly reports how challenging is it for Republican and Democratic elected officials to solve problems together, there was recently an example of a school safety success story that can be attributed to both parties. The results of this effort reflect true leadership and a willingness of elected officials, public safety officials and education leaders to put the safety of students and those who dedicate their lives to educating them above partisan concerns.

In April, the Colorado House of Representatives voted unanimously in favor of Senate Bill 11-173, the first bill in the nation to establish that communications interoperability is a necessary part of a school safety, readiness and incident management plan. This bill passed with an almost astounding level of support from both sides of the aisle.

The bill was introduced in the Colorado Senate by State Senator Steve King (R-Grand Junction), and carried through the House by a bipartisan team, Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora) and Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs). At every stage of the legislative process, including reviews by both the Senate and House Education Committees, the measure received a unanimous yes vote. Along the way, the bill gathered a total of 56 cosponsors: 26 Senate cosponsors and 30 House cosponsors.

SB11-173 enhances the Colorado School Response Framework, created in 2008, in order to improve the effectiveness of crisis response in schools. According to Senator King, lack of interoperable communications has led to crisis response failure time and time again. Examples include Columbine, 9/11, Katrina and major tragic incidents around the world. Responders were unable to communicate with one another during the crisis. The main reason was that communications devices were unable to talk to one another. A former law enforcement officer, King knows first-hand how important communications are when lives are at stake.

The bill requires collaboration between schools and community partners to develop school safety plans that are in line with statewide and local emergency operation plans. SB11-173 also requires public schools, at least every academic term, to inventory emergency equipment and test communications equipment and its interoperability with community partners.

According to the bill, schools would benefit from coordinated multi-stakeholder efforts to share best practices in emergency communications, identify the emergency communication needs at the school level, help target technical assistance and grant opportunities, and prepare schools and the public safety community for next-generation communications technologies. The bill does not require schools to purchase new communications equipment. For more information about the bill and the resources it provides to schools, visit www.SchoolSafetySummit.org, a Website launched by King for school safety stakeholders.

My hat is off to the Colorado legislature for their willingness to work across party lines and to the many emergency response agency and education leaders who painstakingly helped to create this legislation. It is always refreshing when our system of government works as our founding fathers dared to dream it would.

About the Author

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at www.safehavensinternational.org.

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