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Clean Machine
     October 26, 2017      #44-298 a2z
 
What do you do after the worst case scenario?

Allison Shapiro
ashapiro@daily-journal.com

In 2017, we think about disaster preparedness more than ever. We hold drills not just for tornados, earthquakes and floods, but for active shooter situations, too. We worry about our children in schools and our friends at movie theaters. Rarely, though, do we think of the aftermath.

Steve Wilder does. It's part of his job as the chief operating officer at Sorensen, Wilder & Associates, a Bradley company that does national consulting work in the areas of safety and security, emergency preparedness and public safety.

"It's just absolutely amazing the number of companies we've worked with over the years, either before the incident occurs when you go in and realize they have no preparations in place in case something happens, or from time to time we're called in after an event occurs and they're in crisis mode," Wilder said. "Being a hometown guy, I don't want to see something like that happen here."

To that end, Wilder partnered with the Bourbonnais Township Park District to host Emergency Preparedness Leadership, a one-day seminar held Wednesday and designed to teach organizations what to do when the worst happens. About 130 participants learned about crafting an emergency plan, dealing with requirements from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and navigating employer liability.

It was the keynote speaker who answered the question we never think to ask: What happens afterward?

Frank DeAngelis, the retired principal of Columbine High School, was in his office on the morning of April 20, 1999, when two students opened fire, killing 12 of their peers and one teacher.

"If we're not preparing for this, we're doing a disservice to our community," DeAngelis told the crowd. "People ask me what we're going to do. The senseless deaths have to stop, and some people seem to think that if you don't talk about it, it can't happen." He praised parents and educators such as the Maryland parents who recently prevented their daughter from carrying out her plans for a mass shooting.

While DeAngelis helped law enforcement and comforted parents on the day of the shooting, the real work began on April 21. "You can have all this planning and training, training, training, but you can't tell how people will react," he said.

The shooting left DeAngelis a principal of a fractured school even as he had to begin dealing with his own post-traumatic stress disorder.

"We talk about the people impacted, the 13 who died, the 24 that were injured, but there were so many other people affected that day," he said, reflecting on the students who have since committed suicide, fallen prey to substance abuse or simply found themselves struggling to send their own children off to school when the time came.

Soon, he gave up on returning to the way things were before the shooting. Columbine High School settled into a new normal.

"Teachers learned they needed to change the curriculum," he said. "If they were history teachers and they showed a World War II video, they'd re-traumatize kids. Or if we had a fire drill we'd have 400 absent students. We couldn't serve Chinese food for three years because that's the meal they were eating when the gunfire started."

"At some point, the big red trucks go home, the ambulances leave, the yellow tape is gone and we don't know how to put things back together," Wilder said. He said he hopes participants can learn from DeAngelis' leadership lessons.

DeAngelis has the same hope. As he tours the country giving his talk, he thinks about creating a better world for his granddaughter.

"I don't want her to experience trying to get out of the door at Newtown. I don't want her to experience what those kids experienced that day hiding under a table at Columbine High School. I don't want her to experience running across the lawn at Virginia Tech," he said.​

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