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Agencies Discuss School Violence

September 22, 2000

DENVER (AP) _ Little could have improved firefighters’ response to the Columbine High School shootings, but coordination among agencies could help other communities prepare for a similar attack, the Littleton fire chief said Thursday.

Bill Pessemier made the recommendations as educators opened a three-day conference to discuss lessons from the nation’s worst school shooting. Two teen gunmen killed 12 students, a teacher and themselves at Columbine on April 20, 1999.

``We all learned a lot of lessons from Columbine,″ said Lynn Simons, regional representative for the U.S. Secretary of Education. ``One of the chief lessons for educators is that it’s not a school problem, it’s a community problem. All kinds of agencies need to be involved in working together.″

Pessemier recommended more coordination among law enforcement agencies, hospitals and schools; among regional communication systems; and among fire and police crews.

His workshop included a fire department training videotape criticized for showing the aftermath of the shootings with pop music playing in the background. That music has since been replaced with a classical piece.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, a conference co-sponsor, urged schools to better anticipate and respond to disasters, from storms to attacks like the one at Columbine.

FEMA initiated the school-safety memorandum signed Thursday by Simon, U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland and representatives of about 10 other federal agencies.

The regional initiative was announced with a ``toolkit″ listing federal resources for crisis prevention, including funds for youth development programs.

Organizers hope the program will lead to a national counterpart, said Rick Weiland, FEMA regional director.

``A lot of it is because of Columbine,″ Weiland said. ``We have to make good things happen as a result of terrible thing that has happened.″

John Griego, a Colorado Springs school administrator, came to the conference looking for ways to identify high-risk behavior among students and crisis-management strategies.

``I’ve got a satchel full of stuff we could augment in our district,″ Griego said.

The conference ends Saturday.

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On the Net:

Partners Assuring Safer Schools: http://www.fema.gov/reg-viii/pass/passmain.htm

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