School Conditioning Drill Scheduled on Columbine Anniversary Postponed
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School Conditioning Drill Scheduled on Columbine Anniversary Postponed

Rocky Mountain News | March 17, 2005
By Deborah Frazier

Anti-terrorism training is good, but Pueblo officials opted against holding a mock attack on a school on the sixth anniversary of the Columbine High School slayings.

Pueblo County officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency started planning last year for a mock terrorist attack at a school on April 20.

But county officials decided this week to shift the mock attack to another site on the same date because of sensitivity about Columbine, where 12 students and one teacher were killed.

"The date was set three years ago, but we didn't connect the dots in terms of Columbine until last fall," said Steve Douglas, county emergency management director.

Although one of the planning team's members lived in Littleton and another's son had a girlfriend who was in the Columbine cafeteria during the slayings, no one had objected at the time, he said.

Pueblo law enforcement, health and hospitals and other emergency personnel practice responding to an attack each year because 750,000 rounds of artillery shells with a deadly mustard agent are stored east of town.

"The scenario didn't mimic Columbine. It looked more like the attack on the school in Russia where terrorists took over the school," Douglas said.

The specifics of the date, time, place and nature of the exercise were kept secret to see how emergency personnel responded to a surprise attack.

By last week, students and teachers had signed up to take part, letters to parents about the mock attack were ready to mail and school officials were ready to go, said Douglas.

"We even talked to the principal at Columbine," Douglas said.

But Dr. Chris Nevin-Woods, director of the Pueblo City-County Health Department, was concerned about the exercise site and date.

"I did an informal poll of eight community leaders and all but one said they didn't think it was a good idea," Nevin-Woods said.

Last week she raised the issue with the school board, the county commissioners and the county manager and other officials.

The date couldn't be changed because federal monitors, who set the exercise date years in advance, were already scheduled to come, she said.

"They decided to change the site," she said. "I thought we could work it out without any scary ramifications.

"Because it's planned in secret, it might scare a parent who hears that something is going on at one of the high schools," Nevin-Woods said.

On Tuesday the county commissioners moved the site.

The school board concurred on Wednesday.

"Our planning teams meant no disrespect to the victims of Columbine or those who loved them," Douglas said. "We need to be sensitive, and we need to be prepared."

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