School Safety Expert Discusses Columbine and Crisis Communications

DENVER, CO, Apr 19, 2011 –  Colorado State Senator Steve King announced today the forthcoming free release of a presentation by international school safety expert Michael Dorn on lessons learned from Columbine and other school tragedies, and ways to improve schools through new school safety strategies such as interoperable communications.

The presentation will feature video interviews with Dorn as well as highlights of a 3-hour training that King sponsored for lawmakers and school security heads at the Colorado State Capitol on March 25, 2011.

In the training, Dorn examined the cost of technologies against no-cost measures schools could take to improve school safety. However, he said that interoperable communications technology will always be high-priority. “In arenas such as interoperable communications, it’s literally life or death,” he said, “It is one of those core competency areas. If you cannot communicate during a crisis event, you are limited in your ability to save human life and to prevent suffering.”

“We need to bring the schools into the arena because they didn’t have the benefit on that day at Columbine High School, and it would have probably made quite a bit of difference in their ability to resolve that crisis if something like this had been in place at that time, but, of course, it didn’t exist,” Dorn said in a companion video interview.

King has introduced a bill, SB11-173, that authorizes all Colorado schools to have an open line of communication directly with professional first responders during a school emergency. The most widely-used technologies currently permitting this are SchoolSAFE, a system co-developed by school districts and a private-sector school safety network, and the Colorado Statewide Digital Trunked Radio System, governed by a partnership among local, county, state, federal and tribal agencies across the state.

Senate Bill 11-173 enhances the Colorado School Response Framework established in 2008 that requires schools to have staff members trained in the Incident Command System used by public safety agencies. SB11-173 passed the Senate with a unanimous yes vote, and the bill is now being carried through the House by a bipartisan team, Representatives Rhonda Fields and Bob Gardner.

The new presentation will be available at, a website launched by King to bring together school safety stakeholders and community partners. The following is an excerpt from the video interview with Dorn included in the presentation:

“Interoperable communications is a valuable tool and I would say even a necessary one to manage particularly big school crisis events, but it’s also very helpful on a day-to-day basis. [The School Response Framework] in Colorado is probably the best statewide means we’ve seen so far of addressing interoperable communications because it is one of those core things.

“I was recently at a training event in Pueblo, Colorado where the school district there purchased a system called SchoolSAFE, which is an excellent tool for interoperable communications. I was very impressed with it. It’s right now mostly utilized in the State of Colorado, but I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of it around the country because it’s so much more robust than what we had in our police department a decade or so ago because it allows much more control over the interoperable communications.

“For example, with this system a principal can have a $130 radio and talk to a police officer with an $1,800 radio of a totally different type. With those two types of radio units it’s not so easy to achieve that. And here it’s done in a way that’s very quick and reliable under emergency conditions. So that’s why I say what might have been a really good preparedness plan five years ago, is obsolete today because of the changes in not only techniques and strategies, but also some of these new technologies that are coming out.

“When I was in Pueblo, I was so impressed with what I saw, I told them I have not seen a school district and public safety community so well linked anywhere in the world, not in Israel, not in Europe, not in Canada, and not in anywhere here in the U.S. To people who’ve been through a major crisis event, they understand how important it is to be able to just key a mic and talk to the person who can save a life, who’s only a minute away if you can talk to them and tell them exactly where in the building you are, whatever that information is we need to relay.

“One of the things that I have been told by some of the folks from Jefferson County Schools is that right after the tragedy at Columbine, they quickly latched onto the Incident Command System. And they made that mandatory training for their administrators and emphasized it because they saw first-hand how difficult it is to make those very difficult decisions with very little information under time pressure within the organization and with Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and all those other agencies they were working with. So there have been improvements in that aspect of it, but technology-wise something like this SchoolSAFE that I saw demonstrated in Colorado — it didn’t exist.

“So we’ve made some really big leaps forward, but now we need to bring the schools into the arena because they didn’t have the benefit on that day at Columbine High School, and it would have probably made quite a bit of difference in their ability to resolve that crisis if something like this had been in place at that time but, of course, it didn’t exist.”