School Safety Summit to Focus on Interoperable Communications

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Colorado state senator Steve King will lead his second School Safety Summit this Friday, February 4, at the State Capitol in Denver to examine how schools can play a role in the National Emergency Communications Plan and participate in Homeland Security planning at the regional level.

In most communities, first responders cannot talk directly to radio-equipped school staff during a school emergency.

Colorado state senator Steve King will lead his second School Safety Summit this Friday, February 4, at the State Capitol in Denver to examine how schools can play a role in the National Emergency Communications Plan and participate in Homeland Security planning at the regional level.

King announced that he will introduce legislation to improve school emergency communications, claiming that "Colorado schools and their community partners must have interoperable and seamless communications to more effectively respond to life-threatening school incidents."

Summit participants will discuss what resources, funding opportunities, and technologies are available to schools for reliable interoperable communications. Without interoperability, schools are unable to update first responders rushing to a school crisis, and are unable to properly lparticipate in incident management once the responders arrive on the scene, according to King.

"The only solution is to follow the National Emergency Communications Plan and have a direct open line during the emergency," said King, who feels that an important stepping stone is for schools to seek help from their regional Homeland Security office.

"Schools have to make their needs better known," said the senator. "After all, on any given school day about 20 percent of the population is in K-12 school facilities," he said. "Also, when disasters hit, first responders use schools as community relief centers."

Stakeholders planning to attend the School Safety Summit include members from the School Emergency Communications Task Force established by King, and representatives from the Colorado Department of Public Safety, Colorado School Safety Resource Center, Colorado Association of School Executives, and school districts across the state.

The event will start at 1:30 pm on Friday, February 4, in Room 352 of the Colorado State Capitol, 200 East Colfax Avenue, Denver. Interested stakeholders can contact King for a seat at the table or register online at SchoolSafetySummit.org.

King explained that his proposal for a School Emergency Communications Plan builds on recent revisions to the Colorado Safe School Act that require schools to adopt and implement the National Incident Management System, or NIMS. Since 2008, Colorado schools have stepped up partnering activities with local response agencies, conducting joint planning, training, exercises, and evaluations to improve crisis response through NIMS.

At the heart of the activities is school training in the Incident Command System, a step-by-step approach used universally by first responders to address a wide range of threats. However, King noted that communications problems create a "blind spot" for school safety teams that cannot talk with the professional responders.

At a stakeholder meeting King held last week, Kevin Klein, head of the Colorado Division of Fire Safety, said, "Over and over again, the point of failure in the Incident Command System has been the lack of interoperable communications."

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John Simmons

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