Planning for catastrophes |

Planning for catastrophes

Schools and responders talk through potential disasters

Zach Fridell

— It was a horrific scenario. A medical emergency at a school and a school bus accident occurred while a Yampa Valley snowstorm blocked out communication for most areas.

But a horrific scenario was exactly what Chuck Vale was trying to create for members of the Routt County School Safety and Security Task Force on April 17, during a 40-person meeting of school administrators and emergency responders.

“Coincidentally, we had those (emergencies) this past fall,” said Chuck Vale, the former Emergency Management Director who recently took a job as Regional Field Manager with the Colorado Division of Emergency Management. Vale was asked to return to Routt County to facilitate the exercise.

“I wanted to get something that made the schools think through what they would do and what they want in a plan,” he said.

Vale worked with individual schools in similar exercises before, but this is the first time county agencies and schools came together for a large event, Task Force Manager Dennis Freeman said.

“To have a countywide exercise, this hasn’t been done before,” he said. “It’s very important to pre-think. That’s what a tabletop does. It allows you to pre-think an emergency,” he said.

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Freeman was hired for a six-month contract through the Education Fund Board to coordinate school security plans for the three public school districts, but representatives from private schools and Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus were also at the event.

Hayden School District Superintendent Greg Rockhold said the event was a chance to share plans and to show that there is considerable support in case of school emergencies.

He said he was surprised by “the willingness to share information and the willingness to help one another. We’re not in this by ourselves and there are people out there to help you.”

Hayden schools experienced both a medical emergency – in which a student collapsed and died from an undiagnosed heart defect – and a bus emergency – when a school SUV overturned – during this school year. Rockhold said the support from neighboring districts during those events was another example of how the schools work together.

“When our student did die, we were able to contact our neighboring districts, and the very next day, we had counselors available for the students and staff, and for several days after that,” he said.

The task force will continue to hold monthly meetings to develop emergency plans. Freeman’s goal by the time his term has ended is to create a framework for a notebook with emergency information for each school. That will allow the schools to follow a mandate set by Colorado Senate Bill 181, which requires schools to have a preliminary plan in place by July 1.

– To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208 or e-mail