The April 30 evacuation drill at the Prowers County Courthouse had been scheduled more than a week before the Friday morning tornadoes struck the area, and in light of the potential consequences, just on weather alone, an exercise was a timely event.
At 8:30am, few people were in the courthouse and the press release specifically asked residents to conduct their business later in the day. All employees cleared the three main floors without incident, and congregated in three locations outside the courthouse where a headcount was conducted by the department heads.
Sheriff Jim Faull had only one criticism for the exercise, “We used the Code Red Alert for different groups, and every group got the call at the same time. There was a delay as the court system only has two phone lines and no intercom, so they had to go to other offices to notify everyone. The advance message said 0830, and some people felt they had to wait until that point to leave the building. We’ll have to be more specific with future notices.” He mentioned that there were also some instances of people delaying leaving their offices until they had either secured cash drawers or locked up files. “If we had an actual fire or other threat to life, staff will have to be told to leave it where it lies and exit the building,” he noted.
Faull observed that anyone above the ground floor has to exit by only one available staircase. He added that he has had discussions with the county commissioners to get smoke and/or carbon dioxide detectors installed in each office on each floor, as, at this point, there are none. Asked how an exercise would differ on a regular business day with dozens of people in the courthouse, or with court in session, Faull replied that court security would handle that. He added that a simple system would be the best, noting he pared down a 70 page procedure to just three pages on evacuations. Each floor would be checked to make sure it was clear, and we can also screen the offices at our video network at the ground floor security desk.
Faull said, “This morning’s exercise took about five minutes, and I’d like to see that reduced to about two minutes to evacuate. We’re having a summation meeting this afternoon to review how things went and how we can improve on our response time and communications.”
For several years, security at the Prowers County Courthouse, and other courtrooms throughout the state have under gone a series of upgrades. They have been financed through fines levied to those parties found guilty of a range of crimes and misdemeanors in the state. The need for additional security was highlighted five years ago when state troopers shot and killed a gunman outside the governor’s office in the state capitol.
By Russ Baldwin
About the Author: