Archive for Thursday, May 3, 2001

Columbine district official brings message to Eudora

May 3, 2001

Richard Veech said violent trends indicate that no school is immune from a crisis situation. With that in mind, he is spreading the word to communities on how to take proactive and reactive approaches to school catastrophes.

"My belief, my research and my work over the last two years says to me it could occur," Veech said. "It's not just big cities."

Veech is an administrator for the Jefferson County Public School District in Colorado. The district includes Littleton, Colo., where two students at Columbine High School shot and killed 12 students and one teacher before taking their own lives on April 20, 1999. When the incident occurred, Veech was in the district office, 18 miles away. Within 25 minutes, he was on the scene, supporting agencies needing his help, he said.

Veech will speak to Eudora residents in a community forum at 7 p.m., May 3 at Eudora High auditorium. The forum may move to the gymnasium if extra space is needed.

He said the Columbine tragedy taught him a valuable lesson in reacting to situations.

"I believe that the way you respond in the first 10 minutes is the most crucial," he said. "How you will be viewed by the media and the community will be from your reaction. You'll pretty much be viewed that way no matter what you do later."

After Columbine, Veech was trained by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for crisis situations. He holds a national certification from the agency as a trainer of trainers in two areas: incentive command system and multi-hazards for schools.

The incentive command system is an organized response to a situation, Veech said. Under the system, law enforcement, emergency medical personnel, school administrators and the media work in a coordinated effort should an incident occur. Multi-hazard for schools training coordinates how school administrators handle emergency situations ranging from bomb threats, fire and tornado drills and hazardous material training.

Friday, Veech will meet with local and area law enforcement and emergency medical personnel, school administrators and local media in Eudora and De Soto.

Marilyn Saltzman, manager of communications for Jefferson County Public Schools, said Veech's training was helpful in the Columbine aftermath. She said his training led to the organization of a reaction plan in Jefferson County schools.

"He basically wrote our new emergency plan and has been training the entire staff," Saltzman said. "Every school is expected to have a customized plan and we have the template."

Veech said a planned reaction to a situation is important but a proactive approach is also crucial. The district has established teams within each school such as bully proofing, which helps students learn alternative ways to deal with specific types of conflict.

Also, the district has established links with the mental health and religious communities to build activities and programs and plan to help in both a proactive and reactive way, he said.

"I can tell you that certainly it created a heightened awareness by being proactive in preparing for any type of school emergency situation," Veech said. "The way I look at it is this it's a very community-based approach that the school cannot do alone. It's definitely very comprehensive, community based and I think that is absolutely crucial. You cannot forget the proactive component too."

Veech said no matter how much a community prepares, the possibility does exist an incident could occur anywhere. However, being prepared both before and after a situation would help greatly reduce potential problems and make recovering easier.

Columbine High School is still recovering, he said, two years after the incident.

"The community has done a wonderful job of recovering," Veech said. "I guess, truthfully, it's how you define recover. It will always be important and play a role in that community's lives for years to come."

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