Senate Leaders Co-Sponsor Interoperable Communications in Schools Bill

DENVER, CO, February 22, 2011 –  Democrat and Republican leaders in the Colorado Senate joined Sen. Steve King (R-Garfield, Mesa) yesterday to co-sponsor the first school safety bill in the nation calling for statewide communications interoperability that includes all schools.

SB11-173, concerning interoperable communications in schools, was authored by King and a team of stakeholders after a series of School Safety Summits he chaired at the State Capitol for education, public safety, and information technology representatives.

The bill co-sponsors are Keith King (R-El Paso), John Morse (D-El Paso, Majority Leader), Brandon Shaffer (D-Boulder, President of the Senate), Bill Cadman (R-El Paso, Assistant Minority Leader), Morgan Carroll (D-Arapahoe, Majority Caucus Chair), Angela Giron (D-Pueblo), Mike Kopp (R-Jefferson, Minority Leader), Ellen Roberts (R-Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray, San Juan, San Miguel), and Nancy Spence (R-Arapahoe).

SB11-173 was assigned to the Education Committee. A copy of the bill, along with the Summit handouts, can be downloaded from King’s special website for stakeholders, SchoolSafetySummit.org.

King explained that SB11-173 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.

However, King noted that the lack of communications interoperability creates a “blind spot” for school safety teams because they cannot talk with the professional responders and share up-to-the-second information during crisis response.

To address this problem, SB11-173 draws on the coordinated efforts of the Governor’s Office of Information Technology (OIT), the Division of Fire Safety within the Colorado Department of Public Safety, and the Colorado School Safety Resource Center.

Under the bill, their shared objective would be to help schools include interoperable communications in school safety, readiness, and incident management plans.

The School Safety Resource Center would incorporate interoperable communications into its ongoing outreach programs to schools across Colorado.

The Division of Fire Safety, as part of its regular school fire safety inspections, would review all-hazard drills conducted by a school, the school’s ability to communicate directly with state and local first responders during an emergency, and the school’s implementation of NIMS.

OIT would provide expertise, newly-developed online courseware, train-the-trainer materials, and other tools to promote interoperable communications in schools.

OIT reported at the first School Safety Summit that the Colorado Statewide Digital Trunked Radio System (DTRS) is available to schools. DTRS provides a near seamless statewide wireless system that enables direct communications between agencies that absolutely must communicate during times of emergency. OIT announced that 36 of Colorado’s 178 school districts are currently on the system.

In addition, a growing number of both urban and rural school districts including Platte Canyon, Pueblo County D70, Douglas County, Durango School District 9-R, Boulder Valley, Prowers County, Montezuma-Cortez RE-1, and Clear Creek have developed and deployed their own interoperable communications systems that link their schools, district offices, buses, and community response agencies.

According to Colorado SB11-173, schools would benefit from coordinated multi-stakeholder efforts to share best practices in emergency communications, identify the emergency communications needs at the school level, help target technical assistance and grant opportunities, and prepare schools and the public safety community for next-generation communications technologies.

To download a copy of the bill, click this link:
http://www.schoolsafetysummit.org/pdf/SB11-173_01.pdf