Elk Mound, Colfax schools use crisis binders to ensure student, staff safety

By Cara L. Dempski

ELK MOUND — In Elk Mound, there are railroad tracks less than 100 feet from the high school football field. 

The same tracks are at least one-quarter mile away from all three school buildings. In Colfax, the school complex is a little over a mile away from another set of train tracks.

What would happen if, someday, there were to be a train accident and chemical spill while there were students at the schools?

Thanks to a set of “crisis binders” developed by all four Dunn County school districts and county officials, there is no question for teachers and students at Elk Mound, Colfax, Menomonie and Boyceville schools on how to proceed.

Eric Wright, superintendent of Elk Mound schools, said the binders have all the safety information the school might need in an emergency.

“The logic behind this, is you cover as many things as you can that may come up,” Wright explained. 

The binders contain information regarding procedures for a wide variety of instances. The Elk Mound administrator said the events covered are not things handled on a daily basis, but things for which everyone in the school buildings should be prepared. The documentation is updated annually and has been through some major updates in past years.

The major updates are always run through the Dunn County Safety Committee. The group includes local, county and state law enforcement, health officials, human services representatives and school district representatives.

Chris Hahn, principal at Elk Mound Middle School, is the district’s safety coordinator. He is in charge of going through the binders before the start of each school year, asks questions, and makes sure everyone in the three school buildings has updated information.

The binders include floor plans for each school building, staff calling trees, and details for which staff members are assigned to certain tasks in an emergency.

For instance, if there were to be a chemical spill from a train crash, Hahn would spearhead the effort to keep everyone safe. Middle school guidance counselor Robby Phillips would supervise students, while Vickie Mohr would supervise staff, and Jason Lesik would supervise the public.

That means Phillips would provide direction to teachers overseeing the students, Mohr would make sure all the teachers are cared for, and Lesik would greet members of the public and assist parents or family members of children find and reunite with their child or children.

Every teacher has a special sheet in his or her classroom that details how to handle various threat or crisis levels. The least intense level is dedicated to weather and fire evacuations and drills, and the most intense is for incidents like active shooters or hostage situations. 

Wright said the information presented in the binders, and on the sheets in the classrooms, are guidelines.

“When things happen, you have to adjust,” Wright stated. 

He also explained the binders are not released to the public. This is not to hide anything, but rather to keep the students and staff in the district safe. 

In the event school buildings were to be rendered unsafe, Wright said the administration and board would work together to find safe places for students to keep receiving instruction. Places like religious facilities or even bordering school districts – such as Colfax – would be called upon to find out what sort of assistance could be provided.

“It really is a neat process, and I don’t know of too many other counties in the state who meet to communicate about issues and learn from each other,” Wright finished. “I think all the schools in Dunn County, every school in the state of Wisconsin, always has a priority to make safety number one. It all starts with safety.”