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Durango schools look to enhance emergency drills

Snowberger, law enforcement officials seek more frequent cross-training sessions

Law enforcement officers might become more involved in regular emergency drills held in Durango schools, offer critiques of top school administrators’ table-top emergency drills and maybe even begin planning for a large-scale training that mimics an emergency situation at a school.

Durango School District 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger said the main takeaway from a recent discussion with Durango Police Department Chief Kamran Afzal and La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith is that all three agencies should be examining ways to cross-train with each other at different opportunities offered by existing, regularly scheduled drills and training sessions.

Snowberger

Currently, 9-R conducts monthly lockout, lockdown and evacuation drills at its schools, and more formally integrating law officers and emergency responders into those existing drills is worth pursuing, Snowberger said.

“I think we all agreed that the current emergency plan is the right course to follow, to utilize and to guide training, and I think we all agreed when we have different opportunities to train together and work together, we should take advantage of that.”

The meeting comes in the wake of shooting on Dec. 7, when a 21-year-old gunman disguised himself as a student to slip into Aztec High School, where he killed two students and eventually shot and killed himself.

The Durango school district conducted a full-scale mock emergency drill 3½ years ago at Sunnyside Elementary School that involved 240 participants and 20 different agencies, including law enforcement officials, school personnel, emergency medical responders and victim advocates.

The main disadvantage of such a large-scale drill is the months of planning, the cost and the time commitment to stage such a training, Snowberger said.

“You learn something each time you drill. To put together a big-scale exercise takes months to plan. It takes six months if not more. It requires a huge time commitment. You have to coordinate across agencies,” Afzal said.

“You always want to practice, but you want to look at what you are already doing and see if you can improve that and learn from that.”

Afzal said monthly, even daily, drills that are part of ongoing training can be as valuable as a large mock drill, and integrating agencies more fully into each department’s training sessions can make those drills more valuable.

Smith said agencies had a full-scale drill last year at Bayfield High School, and a focus of the meeting was how to provide more frequent opportunities to cross-train without going through the complexities inherent in staging a full-scale mock disaster drill.

“We are going to look for more frequent opportunities for schools to work with the skills that are important in emergency situations,” Smith said. “Schools are drilling all the time, and we talked about ways of getting law enforcement more involved so it would be a better drill all around.”

Enhancing already-scheduled drills is cited as a wise practice by the National Association of School Psychologists, which said, “Schools and districts need trained school safety and crisis teams and plans that are consistently reviewed and practiced.”

NASP also recommends effective lockdown drills that involve collaborative planning with community first-responders.

Snowberger sees value to a large mock drill even if the preparation that goes into it can be daunting, but he said enhancing small-scale drills might be the best course for cross-agency training.

Top administrators at 9-R stage regular “table-top” drills to practice emergency procedures, and Snowberger said future table-top drills, which frequently don’t leave an office setting, will include top command staff from the law enforcement agencies, who will give feedback to school officials.

“Every drill you learn something,” Snowberger said. “It’s a lot like a football team or a basketball team; every time you play, you learn something. If we don’t practice, we’re not going to be as prepared as we can be. A full-scale exercise can be valuable, but we want to see if there are a lot more things we can do more immediately to learn from, to be more aware of each other’s needs, roles and procedures.”

parmijo@durangoherald.com

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