HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. (AP) – Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill Friday that encourages Colorado schools to be on the same radio frequency as emergency responders — the solution to a problem that plagued law enforcement during the Columbine High School shootings.
While not a requirement, the law directs fire marshals to inform schools how they can get grants and training to implement interoperable radio systems that will ease communication between law enforcement and officials inside schools during emergencies.
Many schools across Colorado use different radio systems that differ from what emergency responders use, making it difficult for authorities to communicate during a crisis. Law enforcement experienced the magnitude of the problem during the 1999 Columbine shootings, when 12 students and a teacher were killed.
“It’s the 21st century. How can we possibly afford not to create full interoperability between municipalities and counties and the state, and between places where we might need those first responders like schools and hospitals?” Hickenlooper said before signing the bill at a high school in Highlands Ranch in Douglas County.
Fifteen high school and middle schools in the county have already installed communication systems that allow them to communicate with first responders after receiving at $247,500 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Douglas County officials planned to install interoperable communication systems in all the schools in the district in the coming years.
Sen. Steve King, R-Mesa County, one of the sponsors of the legislation, said the law is meant to highlight the importance of interoperability. Fire marshals will collect information from schools, such as whether they have practiced drills for critical incidents or if they have shelters to use during lockdowns, King said.
The marshals will also ask schools if they know how to use interoperability systems. If they do not, schools will be informed about how they can get funding and training for such systems.
“This legislation helps stand up to fear, helps fight fear, helps fights push back against fear and today, it says that fear will not rule the day in our schools,” King said.
He said having emergency plans and interoperability will empower school officials “so that they have the resolve to be fearless for the safety of our kids.”
King said having schools and first responders on the same frequency also is important for other emergencies, like fires or a vicious dog loose on a campus.
“What this bill does, what this legislation does, is it puts order in place when there is chaos,” said Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, another sponsor of the legislation.
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)