Aspen schools tighten security, communication measures |

Aspen schools tighten security, communication measures

Crisis communication protocols are improving for Aspen schools.
File Photo

A month after the threatening phone call that put Aspen schools into lockdown, district officials are still looking at the event from all angles to improve safety, security, and communication throughout the district.

An update from Aspen School District Superintendent David Baugh at Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting revealed the district now has a working crisis-communication plan that goes into action when a crisis call is initiated and will be reviewed and updated frequently. Communication was something many parents felt was lacking during the lockdown situation in February.

“Our greatest single failure was probably our communication on the day of (the incident), and since then, we have revised our practices,” he said.

Spearheading the crisis-communication plan will be the crisis-communication team, consisting of five members at the district office. Each member will be assigned a task, from answering phones to obtaining factual information from law enforcement at the incident command post to sending out timely communication to stakeholders.

“The first five minutes are huge in a crisis situation. Our general strategy is to slow down the bad guys and accelerate access for the good guys,” said Baugh, noting there were no gender implications by using the term “guys.”

Within the first five minutes, the team will gather the facts and determine who needs to know what. In gathering the facts, he added it is crucial for the team to be able to ignore speculation and rumors in order to determine what the true crisis is.

“These cell phones are great to reassure parents, but they’re also terribly good at spreading misinformation,” he said of the cell phone usage during the February lockdown.

The first message sent out will be emailed, sent via text, sent via phone call, and placed as an alert on the ASD home page and each individual school’s page. Messages will also be put on social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. From there, updated messages will be sent every 15 minutes via text, website, and social-media updates.

Starting next year, the district will be requiring high-school students to put their phone numbers into the system, so they receive the messages. Baugh said student liaisons revealed that the students hardly check their emails because they get too many; so in order to keep the high-school students informed, they will have to provide their phone numbers.

Once the incident is over, staff, families, and board members will receive an “end of incident” email explaining the event and inviting them to provide feedback.

The district has also begun making upgrades to the security of each of the buildings.

“One of the big things that is different about the Aspen School District is that we’re always in secure state …. Our doors are locked here indefinitely,” Baugh said.

Their key-card system has been upgraded, and law-enforcement officers have been given cards that will allow them to access all building doors at all times. Aspen Elementary School is scheduled to have updated key cards and entries after spring break. Due to supply-chain issues, the timeline for the middle and high schools is still being determined.

Despite the lockdown scaring many students, an Aspen High School survey completed by about 60% of the students last week, revealed that 71.4% of students feel “very safe” at school.

“Obviously, we’d love it if 100% (felt safe), but we will continue to have that conversation,” Baugh said.

The district will also be looking at switching to a closed campus, meaning students will no longer be able to leave campus to go out for lunch. According to the same survey, 75% of the high schoolers understood the need for a closed campus.


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