Saturday, September 30, 2006

More School Safety, Community in the Internet Age, Banned Books

A bit of a rough evening at home, combined with some intriguing information that is coming out about the Platte Valley incident, led me to burn the midnight oil and get some things out of my head. This blog is primarily an outlet, not necessarily for my frustrations, but more to give the ideas that collect while doing other things a chance to get out before they get lost. Jan is now asleep and Evan is home from the Ice Rink (what a Godsend for our kids), so now it's time.

School District 51 deserves a bit of credit for allowing one of their High School administrators to appear on KKCO at 5:30 this evening. While the story and the video have yet to be linked to their site, I can say that the guy made some sense about the district's efforts to resolve emergency planning issues, and whatever security measures that may need changed in the wake of school incidents around the country this week. No closed captioning, which is typical, but that's for another day.

KKCO also put a poll on their website about the need to upgrade school security, which I'd like to say from the forefront will likely involve less serious technical hardware and more training in response procedures, communication skills, and planning. While we're mentioning local media, kudos to the Montrose Daily Press for a well-written article about school safety planning in Montrose County.

This relates to something that is a professional and personal anchor for me. There are three components that must be satisfactorily addressed to achieve a "best practice" in any discipline. These are Technology, Processes, and People. These are like the three legs of a stool; if one leg is weak or isn't there, the stool is not going to stand for long.

For example, the act of installing closed circuit cameras around the perimeter of a high school building is not enough to enhance the safety and security of the campus. There must also be persons trained to monitor the cameras, and report noteworthy activity to police and/or school security personnel. Processes for responding to suspicious and/or emergency situations must be developed, and all personnel must be oriented to those processes and trained as to their responsibilities during routine and emergency conditions. This includes the student body, the surrounding community, and public safety responders.

Operations plans that include emergency response need to be living, dynamic documents, integrated into the daily fabric of how a school, or any other organization, routinely functions. An emergency plan is not just something that is pulled from a shelf and has the dust blown off of it whenever there is a drill, or God forbid when the actual emergency occurs.

Openness and effective communication contribute greatly to the development and maintenance of an operating posture that is more assured and certain of its' objectives, which in part helps to define security.

Additional coverage of the Platte Valley incident in Friday's Rocky Mountain News brought attention to a community Internet resource that played a key role in making sure that the residents of the Bailey area had access to credible information, and could communicate with their neighbors to share information. The Pinecam website is owned by the mountain communities along US 285. Several emergency situations in this general area over the last few years have turned Pinecam into a community resource for information sharing.

There are now similar community Internet pages available to most of the communities in Metro Denver and Colorado Springs through the site. This site is administered by the Denver Newspaper Agency (publishers of both the Rocky and the Post), and serves major cities not only in Colorado but several other states as well, with a local newspaper or media outlet serving as the local host. I inquired a few months back if Grand Junction could be included in the yourhub system, and was told that any media outlet can host it. Memo to the Sentinel and the Free Press; this might be worth checking into.

One final note; I found out late that this past week was designated as Banned Books Week by the American Library Association. I coincidentally stopped into the Central Library today to check out their remodeling; they've done an impressive job creating more space with the limited funds available to them. I won't get into that too much, other than to wonder out loud what's going to happen to all that empty space in the 500 blocks of Ouray and Chipeta.

While I didn't see that much about Banned Books Week at the library today, it is nonetheless something important to remember. When I was a junior in High School in 1976, the nearby Montour School District banned from its' libraries the first of John Jakes' series of historical novels about the American Revolution, timed with the Bicentennial celebration. This volume was (perhaps inelegantly) titled The Bastard, and it appeared that the only thing the board had a problem with was the title itself. Like many banned books, 30 years later it and the remainder of the series are considered excellent examples of contemporary fiction. The school district appears to still be concerned with style over substance. Last year they were the ones who brought in Dick Butkus and ESPN to turn their High School's football season into Reality TV.

As with emergency planning and accountability to the community, openness and communication with regard to information and creativity must remain a benchmark of our country if we have any chance of remaining competitive in an increasingly connected world. We must remain diligent when it comes to helping our children understand this information, but there is a big difference between diligence and censorship, and isolationism does us no favors, here or abroad. If the Internet isn't maintained as the neutral, increasingly ubiquitous information gateway that it has become, then we risk inviting the same thinking that fueled the imaginations of George Orwell and Ray Bradbury so many years ago.

Jan is up and can't remember where she put her hearing aid. Time to help her look, and prepare for another day.

God's blessings to all of you.

Friday, September 29, 2006

School Emergencies

In my work I've taken more than a passing interest in school-related violence and other incidents that affect schools in general. I have a binder full of reports and analyses of the Columbine massacre, and over the course of my career have tried to work diligently to remove barriers to the effective access to, and timely response of, public safety resources.

I won't join the speculative games being played by many regarding the tragedy at Platte Canyon High on Wednesday. I'll wait for the numerous after-action reports that will undoubtedly follow, and make my own judgments about the effectiveness of Incident Management and Communications at the scene and with incoming resources. Those are my areas of interest and focus, for which practical experience and history form a map of the unknown territory to come.

One related item caught my attention in yesterday's Daily Sentinel. I'll link to it here. The key line from this story about the student with the knife, and one that speaks volumes, is:

"Mesa County Valley School District 51 spokesman Jeff Kirtland said district disciplinary policies and procedures were being followed and would not comment further on the incident."

Really now? My guess is that the District is upset that a breath of this got out to the media in the first place. I'll bet they tried their darndest to keep this out of the public eye, and especially away from the parents at Pear Park, for as long as they could, and then stonewalled media inquiries about it.

This and other events over the years make me almost think that a long-standing hypothesis of mine may be slowly on the road to being proven. That is, schools react and respond to on-campus incidents with a significant amount of their collective mental energy focused on keeping the incident quiet and shaping the message, rather than just managing the incident.

Mr. Kirtland may indeed have a regulatory shroud (excuse) that prevents him from speaking about the incident. This does not do the parents of students or the public at large any good.
As the parent of a Grand Junction High School student, I expect disclosure of any incident that may affect the safety of the campus population, and attempts to simply and efficently communicate pertinent details to parents and other involved parties. I also expect that the district's emergency response plan will be diligently followed on any significant incident.

One more thing that is unfortunately necessary:

The opinions expressed in this weblog are solely my own as an individual and private citizen, and do not represent the opinion or policy of my family, my employer, or any other private or public entity that I am or have been affiliated or associated with.

Til we meet again soon.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Movies - Don't ya just love em?

My wife and I like foreign films. We sat down a few nights ago to watch Water, the third in a series of films about India by the director Deepa Mehta. Like the previous two films, Fire and Earth, this film approached the religious traditions of India and their effects on the human condition, as well as how human beings deal with those effects.

For me personally, I find many indirect parallels between these experiences in Indian culture and some of our experiences here as a country. While (for better or worse) we have been spared this type of ostracism, oppression, and upheaval in this country, there are still cultural barriers to many things that are rooted in faith that are influenced more by secular things than by true religious teachings. Religion plays a significant role in all three of these films, but in different ways. There are also positive examples of these types of cultural influences, as witnessed by another of our favorite films, Monsoon Wedding.

I wanted to get this out about these movies and their impact on myself and wife, because in a way it will be a penance and a redemption of sorts for escorting five teenage boys this evening to Jackass Number Two out at the Carmike. No, there isn't a link to this, and for good reason.
It is funny at times, but mostly extremely gross and not for anyone under maybe 15. My son and most of his friends thought it hilarious, and I guess I was that way when I was their age, though I have probably blotted it out.

My advice? Make an excuse to not be able to get the boys past the "intense" Carmike "R " Rating security (the place is run by teenagers half the time, why should they care?), and rush out to rent or buy A Prairie Home Companion when it comes out on DVD on October 10.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Wake-Up Weekend

My days off from work are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (I work 4 10-hour shifts Sunday through Wednesday evenings), so I try to get things like doctor's appointments, home maintenance, and volunteer work done near the end of the week. This weekend was busy and surprising in several different ways:

The shower in one of our bathrooms has had issues with the tile for several months, so we arranged to have the shower completely replaced this past weekend. The guys at Tile Meister are very easy to work with, and although it took a while to get the job scheduled it finally happened.

What we found out was that the original construction (an addition in 1983) involved the shower tile being placed over regular drywall, not the thicker and reinforced "Dura-Rock" or "Wonderboard" that is common, if not required, for any type of bathroom construction. Fortunately there wasn't any structural compromise behind the drywall.

This is kind of a history lesson, I think. The addition was planned and/or built in the midst of the oil shale boom-into-bust that enveloped the Grand Valley and surrounding areas in the late 70's and early 80's. As a result of the immense demand for housing that accompanied the 'boom' part of that, I think that a lot of corners were cut. If you drive through areas where there are a lot of unimproved homes from that time period, I think you'll get a better idea if you don't have one already. Our shower project is a glimpse into a past that I vaguely remember first-person as a young adult in Pittsburgh in 1979 and 1980, along with quitting school and working in the hotel business, waiting in line for gas, and working as a volunteer for John Anderson's presidential campaign.

Speaking of (nearly) lost causes, I had a doctor's appointment for an annual physical this past Friday. This dovetails with an experience I had as a volunteer at our local community radio station on Friday as well, so bear with me if I go back and forth a bit.

I'm training to help produce a popular program on KAFM called "Words". This program solicits the assistance of local teachers to encourage mostly younger students to look up a word in the dictionary, learn what it means and how to spell it, and then record this along with a short script that is later mixed with topical music and aired on the radio station three times a day.
The 'tagline' for the program is "believing in the youth of the Grand Valley and their power in words". So after observing Jeff Liddle work with 25 second graders to get the raw audio recorded, the next step to learn will be editing and music mixing. This is going to be great fun for a good cause, I think.

About the time I was leaving for the doctor the staff was getting ready to draw the prize winners in the annual fund-raising raffle. They sell 1000 tickets at $25 apiece for prizes donated to them by local businesses. First prize was a trip to Hawaii, tenth was a hundred lottery tickets.
Other prizes included a kayak, a cruiser bike, and a $750 gift certificate from Browns Shoe Fit.

So I get to the doctor and tip the scales at over 300 lbs for the first time ever. I really wasn't that surprised; I work in a largely sit-down job, and my focus over the last year has been on Jan's well-being more than my own. Nevertheless, it was a cause for concern even though I feel good and still move pretty well. I went back later for the usual blood work, which hopefully won't show any additional new abnormalities.

I went to lunch at Nick-N-Willys; pizza, salad and a drink for a good price. I had my favorite, the Aegean, which normally has spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese but was minus spinach for obvious reasons. Still good. While I was there, I got a voice mail from the radio station saying that I had won the cruiser bike in the raffle.

I thought, this is God telling me to get off my butt (and out of the car) and get back on self-propelled transportation. I went to Brown's Cycles yesterday and got a few accessories. Thanks to them for donating the bike to KAFM for the raffle. Now I just need the resolve to ride it to work and back, and wherever else close by that I need to go. That and more fruits and veggies. My wife Jan has been in a "steady-as-she-goes" mode with her cancer treatment and progress. The tumors that were in her brain, lung, and liver have all disappeared or reduced significantly. Her spine remains the area of concern, and while tumor growth has slowed considerably we are hopeful that CT and MRI scans in October will show continued improvement. Time enough for some self-improvement strategies now. I need to remember that I have to be at my best for Jan and Evan in the years ahead.

Last night at the Vineyard we heard from Don Stephens, who heads up Mercy Ships, a group that provides surgical care aboard hospital ships to impoverished peoples in Africa. They also have a fixed facility in Sierra Leone. His talk was in some ways typical of the presentations you see from overseas mission groups, but in some ways not at all like them. He spoke of the poverty in Africa being tied to the continent's percentage of global trade, and that perhaps the best way to address many of Africa's problems is to improve their ability to produce goods and services for export. He cited the Hagar Project in Cambodia as an example of this. He also spoke of laws in the US that prevent the shipment of drugs to many impoverished areas of Africa.
This reminded me of The Constant Gardener, possibly in reverse. Mr. Stephens' message will likely be available to listen to online, along with other Canyon View Vineyard sermons, here.

After the service there were several mission organizations with tables set up in the lobby providing information on mission opportunities. Some of the other notable groups were Youth With A Mission and SpreadTruth, both that have a rather slick web presence as well. I was intrigued by SpreadTruth's one-week mission trips to New York and Chicago. I don't doubt the need, and would be interested in seeing just how much third-world-type conditions actually exist in our most populated cities. Living in Pittsburgh gave me my taste of it to be sure, but the aftermath of Katrina has also opened many eyes.

The best message I received from Mr. Stephens' talk was the reminder of the essential, basic messages of Christ when it comes to dealing with the less fortunate. Central to his message were Luke 4:18-19 and Isaiah 61, both dealing with the essential premise that Jesus' first and last public messages of his ministry focused on the world's forgotten poor.

This revelation gave me pause about the difficult nature of government in times such as we are living in now. How do we balance things such as the war on terror and the rise of extremism and intolerance (regardless of where it comes from) with the admonitions of both Matthew and Luke in these areas?

It seems more and more apparent to me that the current American government has done a less than admirable job of balancing the above, among several other things. There is irony in this, given their base of support in this country, that I will not begin to try to approach now. The 19-year-old who eschewed Jimmy Carter in 1980 has learned quite a bit since then, and what they say about hindsight is certainly true. Hopefully we can make sure future generations remain cognizant of that.

I could only wish that all weekends were as lively, enlightening, and renewing as this one was.
My best wishes to you for good weeks and weekends ahead.

P.S. to Ralph: Thanks for the plug (I think).

My September 11 Post

I originally sent this to several friends, and got so many positive comments that I'll include it here, with the addition of some explanatory links. Enjoy, and thanks to those who already did.


Well, I know that a lot of you want to hear more about 9/11 as much as I want to hear more about the JonBenet case. I can tell you that I worked tonight, which is what I was doing 5 years ago today. This time 5 years ago we were seeing people responding to rumors of $3.00 a gallon gasoline and scrambling to fill up before the prices changed. OK then.......

Things aren't as different for some people as perhaps they should be, but for me the 9/11 experience has been a decidedly mixed bag. Professionally, many things that I have believed in and worked for most of my career in public safety have come much closer to large-scale acceptance. Things like unified Incident Command and interoperable communications are big deals, and they're happening now. This is a good thing.

The price we've had to pay as a society for the loss of personal freedom, increased suspicion, lack of trust in one's fellow man and the nagging effect of fearmongering, hype, and conspicuous consumerism on our collective national psyche has at times been difficult for me to stomach. One must have a finely tuned B.S. filter nowadays, firmly placed inside the protective cocoon of faith, humility, and dedication to one another, regardless of our ideological differences.

The last five years have also brought along personal difficulty and loss, and a sense of continuing joy as we watch our little boy grow up a thoughtful, energetic, and articulate young man, who three years from now will have to register for a draft that I hope will never come. I hope that my friends and loved ones will thrive and endure, and that my family will remain intact in the face of these uncertainties, especially as Jan's fight with cancer continues. I hope....

I will pray for the wisdom to help install earthly leadership that truly demonstrate the values of a Christian heart. Take that as your own faith guides you to, but for me that means living by the example of Jesus Christ, and not by sound bytes on Fox News. The complexities of our world require us to sweat the details, to take an interest, and to read and listen past the limits of most of what our mass media puts before us, which I like to classify as "Weapons of Mass Distraction". Oh, and by the way, Go Steelers...

One example stood out for me among the cacophony of talking heads, and that was Keith Olbermann last night. I've attached his commentary, which ran nearly a full, uninterrupted 9 minutes and was an example of what we are missing in discourse in this country. You can also read the commentary and watch the video from his show on MSNBC at:

Thanks for paying attention, and may God bless all of you in the truly uncertain times ahead.


Starting Off

I think I've been called to start this blog because I seem to be gathering experience in being able to express myself in writing, and have been feeling an innate need to share, if for no other reason than to help myself and others. Here's the brief initial scoop:

I live in Grand Junction, Colorado.
I am a native of the greater Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area.
I have been married for nearly 18 years. My wife has been fighting cancer since July 2005. More about her here.
We have a teenage son, Evan. More about him here.
I work in Public Safety Communications. Not to sound trite, but my work number is 9-1-1.
I am also active in several professional organizations and publications.
We attend Canyon View Vineyard Church in Grand Junction. Being there has helped..a lot.

My hobbies include:
Frank Lloyd Wright.
Mass Media.
I volunteer at KAFM Radio, an excellent community radio station.
Politics as it relates to the First Amendment, Civil Liberties, and Freedom in Cyberspace.
I am a big fan of Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion.

It seems that this week I've got plenty to say, and hopefully that well won't run dry anytime soon. Considering all of the interesting things going on in the world, I can't imagine that happening anytime soon.

Off we go. Your comments and suggestions are welcome.