Event reinforces importance of emergency preparedness


FARMINGTON — Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter said emergency response training and preparedness prevented a worse tragedy during the Dec. 7 shooting at Aztec High School.

Two Aztec students were killed, but Carpenter said the shooter failed to complete his plans of taking a classroom hostage.

Carpenter was the guest speaker at the annual emergency response seminar today at the Farmington Civic Center. The seminar was the kickoff event of the emergency preparedness exercise program. The program was organized by the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management and is a requirement for the homeland security funding that the county requires.

Various local law enforcement, firefighting and emergency management agencies, as well as business representatives, train and prepare for emergencies every year. This year, they will have an emergency response drill in September.

“As I think about this exercise program, I realize that one year ago, Kirk was sitting in this same room as the rest of us not knowing what his year would entail,” Farmington City Manager Rob Mayes said during the seminar. “I think that one of the inspirations that we need to draw today is for everyone of us to think we could be in the same situation that Kirk was, finding our self the leader of an entity or organization that’s come under a major tragedy or attack, and ask ourselves are we prepared. On Dec. 7, 2017, life changed in San Juan County and Aztec.”

New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Secretary Jay Mitchell attended the seminar and talked about the importance of training.

“An exercise is not supposed to be successful in everything you do,” he said. “It’s time to break things. It’s time to break out the equipment and make sure it does what it’s supposed to do.”

He said the training is an opportunity to meet “other players” and “learn what resources they have and what they can bring to the fight.”

For example, Mitchell said during a snowstorm that left people stranded in southeast New Mexico two years ago, local government officials spent time trying to determine who owned snowcats that could be used in the rescue effort. Eventually, they learned that two of the vehicles were owned by the New Mexico Department of Information and Technology.

“You don’t exchange cards in the foxhole,” Mitchell said.

The central point of the seminar today was the shooting in Aztec.

“Dec. 7,” Mitchell said. “I know it was a hard day here in this community. It was a hard day statewide.”

Carpenter reiterated something he had heard at a training meeting earlier this month. He said the greatest weapon school officials had during the shooting was their brains.

He highlighted some of the actions that may have saved lives on the morning of the shooting. A maintenance man rushed a student who was not sheltered in a classroom off campus, got her into a truck and drove her away from the school, Carpenter said. He said a teacher inside a classroom saw students knocking on a classroom door while the shooting was happening. Carpenter said the teacher let the students inside the classroom.

“The state has shrunk,” Carpenter said. “This nation’s shrunk because of these acts that are occurring against our schools, and it needs to stop. We can’t talk about it, we have to take action. As a superintendent and as a school district, we don’t have the answers. We have part of it, and we’re doing something about it in this county by getting together as school districts, and as community people, as elected officials, as fire (fighters), as police. And we’re doing it with the leadership of the sheriff’s department in our meetings. But we need to take action.”

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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