Colorado Takes Leap Forward in School Emergency Preparedness
Recently passed legislation requiring NIMS compliance, communications interoperability and MOUs promises to make K-12 campuses in the Rocky Mountain State better able to respond to crises.
On a Tuesday morning, a group of third grade students are collecting samples for a science project on the school’s nature trail. A number of them suddenly become ill. A minute later, the school is notified that nearby, a tanker truck has tipped over, releasing a toxic chemical.
The lives of students and staff now depend on how quickly the school’s principal and crisis team can make decisions, effectively use available resources, coordinate their actions with local public safety officials and communicate with emergency responders. In short, children may die needlessly if school officials are not able to utilize a proven structure to quickly gain control of the incident.
Fortunately, such a system has already been developed for campuses and has proven its effectiveness in emergencies. The National Incident Management System (NIMS) has been recommended for use by campuses by the U.S. Departments of Education and Homeland Security for several years now, but many K-12 school systems are still not truly NIMS compliant.
Additionally, many campus officials mistakenly think they are NIMS compliant when in reality they are not. The survival of the children in our hypothetical scenario could be in jeopardy in a school that is not NIMS compliant.
With bipartisan support, the Colorado legislature and governor recently passed Senate Bill (SB) 08-181, which was introduced by Senator Tom Wiens. Colorado’s General Assembly is the first in the nation to spell out in detail a school response framework based on our national response framework, which incorporates NIMS, memorandums of understanding and interoperable communications requirements.