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Schools plan for the worst

Lowell Whiteman Primary School discusses emergency response procedures

Routt County Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale discusses emergency preparedness Friday with teachers at Lowell Whiteman Primary School. Vale has had experience working with hurricane disasters in Florida and New Orleans.
Matt Stensland

— The first and biggest challenge for Routt County Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale is convincing the faculty and staff at Routt County schools that disaster could strike.

“Eighty-five percent of people do not believe anything bad is going to happen to them,” Vale told the teachers at the Lowell Whiteman Primary School during an emergency preparedness discussion Friday. “The reality is, if you don’t believe anything bad is going to happen, it’s hard for me to get you to prepare for anything.”

Vale said he was pleasantly surprised by the response he received from Lowell Whiteman teachers and School Director Nancy Spillane.



Vale told the staff about his experience working with hurricanes in Florida and New Orleans and said the school should be prepared to keep students overnight if the need arises. That means food, blankets and plenty of water to keep the students comfortable should be kept in the school at all times.

As a part of the Routt County School Safety, Security and Emergency Management Task Force, Vale is holding a series of meetings with staff at schools throughout the county to discuss possible incidents and the appropriate response.



In Craig, the team held a mock disaster, with a police officer posing as an armed, disgruntled parent. Using blanks in a gun, the officer fired several rounds in the office of the school.

Spillane said the school would be equipped to handle a natural disaster forcing the students to stay overnight, but the prospect of an armed parent was one that worried her.

“We’re all survivors here. We go camping : and teach kids winter survival skills. I don’t worry about that so much. I worry about people snapping,” she said.

Vale also walked the staff through the procedures for calling for emergency help if an incident does occur, including the correct way to speak to dispatch personnel and how to give correct information fast.

“We grew up thinking you just dialed 911, and help will come,” he said. “What if they don’t come, and what do you do while they’re coming?”

Giving as much information to dispatchers as possible is key to getting the correct responders to the school fast, Vale said. By setting the stage, explaining whether someone is hurt and whether there is a gun or a fire, the Routt County dispatchers will be better able to send the appropriate response fast.

As a result, the school is updating its emergency preparedness plan, Spillane said, and the school may hold drills later in the year.

Vale said his goal was not to alarm anyone but to raise awareness and preparedness.

“Are we going to be 100 percent safe? Of course not. But we’re pretty darned safe,” Vale said.


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