Emergency prevention and response

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Gilpin County

By Roger Baker

The passage of another September 11th on the calendar always seems to bring concerns of national and local security to the fore, and this year is no different.

Still, as the years have rolled on, different events – Aurora, Sandy Hook, Boston – have given rise to still other worries.

In Gilpin County, we’ve been working to come up with a structure that will facilitate both prevention and response to any sort of emergency. What began as a resurrection of the state-mandated Local Emergency Planning Committee has developed into something called the Gilpin County Emergency Services Council, in which the representatives of the various emergency response agencies in the County – fire departments, law enforcement, and others – meet at least monthly to devise plans, inventory resources, and coordinate communications. Right now, though, the burning question is whether or not there should be a full-time emergency manager in the County, and if so, who should fund and supervise such a position.

Parallel to this overall planning effort are specific actions geared toward specific threats. Even in this wet summer, wildfire worries are always top of mind for local residents, and the receipt of a $204,992 grant from something called the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute will enable us to distribute funds to homeowner groups willing to perform – or contract for – local mitigation projects.

This too will require staffing: the County is using some of the funding to hire a Wildfire Mitigation Grant Coordinator for up to 15 hours a week for the next 18 months. If you know someone who might be interested, have him or her check out the Employment section of the County’s website or Facebook page.

Finally, with the start of a new school year, the issue of school safety has again emerged. One possible solution that has been discussed is the hiring of a full-time (during the school year, anyway) School Resource Officer. Even if the parties agree that such an SRO position is the most sensible response to the very legitimate concerns of parents and staff, there are still a lot of details to be worked out. Who pays for such a position, and who supervises it? If it’s under the Sheriff’s Office, what does that employee do in the summers? Or is it just a part-time position?

At any rate, the school board and the Commissioners were meeting Wednesday night (September 11, significantly, too late for coverage in this paper) to see if they can agree on a proposal. And while hiring an SRO is one possible scenario, there certainly are others. In Clear Creek County, last we checked, there was just one SRO position for their three schools, and the school district kicks in $25,000 toward the cost of that employee. But neither Grand nor Summit counties have an SRO at all. Or we could use a current deputy to stay at the school full-time, but that cost the County more than $35,000 in overtime last semester.

Then there are the more creative solutions, like arming staff and even teachers. I’m not sure that anyone is proposing that for Gilpin RE-1, but nothing is off the table at this time.

As with most of these complicated questions, no one answer will fully satisfy everyone (or even anyone!), and one size does not fit all. We can’t have a full-time police presence every place kids gather (the Community Center? the ball fields?), so one has to wonder why the school setting itself is so different.

Assuring our kids’ safety is of the utmost importance, as is protecting homes and lives from wildfire. And who knows what disaster will next shake our complacency and make us rethink our comfort zones. Who would have thought you would only be allowed to take clear plastic bags into a Broncos’ game? But that’s the new status quo. Things change…

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