Preparing for the worst |

Preparing for the worst

County hosts emergency response workshop

— Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener will never forget walking into Platte Canyon High School classrooms filled with stunned students and teachers.

“The look on everyone’s faces when I opened the door :” Wegener recalled Friday. “You could have heard a pin drop. They were all staring right at me. But the kids were great – they did exactly what I told them to do. I told them to form a single-file line and evacuate the building, and that’s what they did.”

In another classroom just down the hall, 53-year-old Duane Morrison held seven students hostage for several hours before fatally shooting 16-year-old Emily Keyes. He then took his own life. The date was Sept. 27, 2006.

On Friday at Centennial Hall in Steamboat Springs, Wegener gave a point-by-point review of the tragic school shooting to a crowd of more than 40 local and regional emergency management workers, law enforcement officers, educators and government officials.

Wegener’s address was the keynote speech in a daylong workshop hosted by Routt County Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale and assistant Cheryl Dalton. The workshop provided instruction about how to establish joint information centers, which serve as a central location for the multiple agencies that respond to a disaster situation.

Joint information centers

also serve as a focal point for dispensing information to the media and public.

“I would argue that information is one of the most important commodities in a critical situation,” said Derek Jensen, a Denver-based

external affairs specialist for the Federal Emergency Man-

agement Agency, or FEMA. “When people don’t have good information, what do they do? They panic,” he said.

Vale said the idea for training local and regional officials about joint information centers originated in June 2006, when the annual gathering of the Rainbow Family of Living Light brought thousands of campers to a remote location near Big Red Park in North Routt County. Because of the size and duration of the gathering – which was in the middle of wildfire season – numerous government and law enforcement agencies came to Routt County to control and manage the event.

Those agencies used a room in the Routt County Courthouse Annex as an impromptu joint information center.

Vale said Friday’s workshop was a big step toward continued preparation for an emergency situation in Routt County.

“The next step that our Routt County group is going to take is what I’m calling a media panel, then we’re going to put some documents together that recognize a joint information system in Routt County,” Vale said.

Steamboat Springs Police Capt. Joel Rae, who spent two days this week at a school violence workshop in Denver, said Friday’s workshop will boost collaboration between agencies.

“That kind of internal communication doesn’t always happen,” Rae said.

Wegener said while he will receive the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s report about the Bailey shooting on March 19, there still is no explanation for why Morrison entered the school that morning.

Wegener said in nearly every case, violence in schools is committed by angry students or parents or by people with some relation to the school.

That was not the case last September.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” Wegener said. “None of us were ready for anything like this. There is still nothing that connects Morrison to Platte Canyon High School.”

– To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail

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