By DOUGLAS W. MOTLEY – Senior Writer
Several dozen concerned mountain residents showed up at the Rim High School Library on Tuesday, April 18 to discuss the decisions, impact and response effort Rim of the World Unified School District had regarding the winter blizzard and subsequent snowstorms that wreaked havoc upon the mountaintop communities in late February and throughout much of March.
Speaking first at the meeting, which got underway at 7 p.m., was Rim District Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Fricker, who used a series of overhead projections to illustrate the various phases of the emergency and agencies involved in providing emergency services. Noting that the school district coordinated with County Fire and the Sheriff’s Department, Fricker said, “Phase one went very quickly, we couldn’t triage because it happened so quickly. We began by opening the [high school] library, Charles Hoffman Elementary and the Lake Gregory facility as evacuation centers. All the schools emptied their refrigerators and gave food to whoever needed it.”
Fricker had nothing but praise for what she described as the “tight-knit” communities of Running Springs and Arrowbear, whose residents took it upon themselves to go door-to-door to check on snowed-in families to see what kinds of help they might need. Running Springs resident Jaime Stiansen added, “We looked for the least traversable roads and people would then ski food and emergency supplies to the homes that needed them.”
Concerned about the 21 days of school closure during the height of the storms and how those days could be made up, Dr. Fricker said, “We submitted a 22-page document to the state describing the impact this emergency had on the mountain communities.” When an audience member asked why the schools didn’t return to online learning, Fricker explained that not all students had a computer device at home. “We are waiting for the governor to give us a waiver for instructional minutes.”
One option, school board member Scott Craft said, is Saturday school. “We already have two Saturdays scheduled for those students who want to come. We may need to add on more school days.” Chief District Business Official Jenny Haberlin said, “We have to build in snow days based on the five-year average used to add to the end of the school year. We’re confident the waiver will be approved.”
Assistant Superintendent of Special Services (Special Ed) Shannon Hansen credited the district’s counselors for providing emotional support through individual contact for students with ADD (attention deficit disorder) and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). “Our attendance rate was very high when the students came back to school, smiling and happy to see their friends again. All of our students are back in school now.”
Another audience member suggested that there is a need for the availability of non-perishable food. “Some communities went for two weeks without power, and then the roof collapsed at Goodwin’s and people panicked. Our schools have a lot of space that could be used for food banks.” Dr. Fricker had already mentioned earlier that all the schools had emptied their refrigerators and made food available to those who needed it.
Others critical of errors made by county officials and agencies, such as the lack of snowplows and graders and the lack of alternative routes off of the mountain, suggested that there needs to be a plan on how to avoid these alleged errors in the event of another emergency. Fricker pointed out that some of the roads off the mountain couldn’t be cleared due to avalanches. “We got the brunt of the storm, with as much as 10 feet of snow on the ground. People in Running Springs, Arrowbear and Green Valley Lake were literally stranded, they couldn’t go anywhere. The sheriffs transported some people whose homes were not inhabitable down the hill,” Fricker said.
Someone else argued that the OES (Office of Emergency Services) was irresponsible. They knew this was coming. It’s unacceptable for the county to say they didn’t know it was coming. Why is the command center down the hill and not up here?
Sheriff’s Sgt. B.J. Whiteside, speaking as a parent, said, “Mother nature is unpredictable, people don’t leave during a snowstorm like they do when there’s a fire. Be prepared; the people in Running Springs survived due to the good neighbor philosophy. In the end, we can’t survive without each other.” When asked what the most important thing he learned from the meeting was, Whiteside responded, “When leaders are needed, they rise to the occasion.”
In agreement with Whiteside was Crestline resident Penny Shubnell who offered, “Down the hill people don’t know the geography; we need to have one point of contact, a leader up here on the hill.”