Every year, we are faced with situations that require students and staff to evacuate the facilities. Sometimes this is the result of a crisis (for example, a threat to student safety) or a non-crisis (for example, bad weather or a water main break). In either category, timeliness and accuracy of communications are imperative in managing an event requiring the evacuation of students. On Monday, October 1, 2018, our SOMS students, staff, families, and our local first responders were faced with an incident that required an evacuation of the school.
It’s important to start with a little background information. The scenario on October 1 concerned a threatening message found in the building. While I can’t give the specific details of what the message stated, it qualified as a threat to the safety, good order and discipline of the school. The principal and I agreed to evacuate the building temporarily while the Orangetown Police and Rockland County Sheriff’s Departments investigated the nature of the threat. After law enforcement conducted a thorough investigation and deemed the building safe to return, we issued an “all clear” message to the staff, students, and families. It was our intent to resume classes after the building was determined to be safe by the law enforcement experts – and that was what happened, for the most part. The bottom line is that the safety of students and staff continues to be our first priority and everyone acted accordingly. Secondary to this was the communications effort and the response of the folks involved.
Every instance of a threat to our schools is treated with the utmost seriousness out of an abundance of caution. We can never be too careful when it comes to protecting our students and staff. We had the benefit of knowing the plan of action from the very beginning. From a communications standpoint, we understand that receiving a notification that your child’s school is evacuating can be distressing. That is why it is important that families and the school district work together to develop a common understanding of what to do when we need to respond to a crisis.
In some instances, the students and staff may only need to be evacuated from the building briefly for a situation to be assessed and a determination to be made that they may return safely to the building. However, just because we have students evacuate the building does not necessarily mean that we will be dismissing students from the campus. In the event that an evacuation results in a decision to dismiss students or parents need to pick up their children, the school district will contact families (and emergency contacts) immediately. Further, in the event that an evacuation results in the dismissal of students, we will include voice/phone messaging (in addition to email) to ensure that parents are able to exercise their family’s early dismissal plan. In all cases, regardless of whether an action is required by families, we will keep you continuously informed via email and, as necessary, sending voice/phone messages. Lastly, in the event of a dismissal, we will also inform the local media.
In summary, and to reiterate:
- The school district uses email to notify that it is managing an incident that has occurred (please add “[email protected]” to your email contacts list and designate this email address as a trusted or “safe” sender to ensure that you receive SchoolMessenger emails)
- In the event that parent action is needed or students are being moved to an alternative location, robocalls (to wireless and landline phones) and emails will be sent to all primary and emergency contact phone numbers on file
This most recent evacuation is also an important reminder to parents to have a family emergency plan and to make sure that the schools where children attend have up-to-date primary and emergency contact info. We will be having a Districtwide Early Evacuation Drill on November 21, 2018, and this will be a good time for all families in our school district to practice their emergency plans. Every child should have an understanding as to what to do in the event that we dismiss schools earlier than regularly anticipated.
Lastly, our Districtwide Safety Committee and first responders will be developing additional information resources and workshops in the very near future to further refine our crisis communication effort to better ensure the safety and security of students and staff, and to educate families about the various drills we perform so that they have a greater understanding of our practices. Topics will include:
- Shelter in place, Hold in place, Evacuation, Lockout, and Lockdown (SHELL Procedures). Click on the link to learn more from this very informative SCHOOL SAFETY REFERENCE GUIDE. We will be sending a quick reference guide to all of our families that you can keep handy.
- Clarifying the role and purpose of the School Resource Officer (SRO) and local law enforcement
- The important role(s) of our staff members in ensuring student safety in emergency situations
- How parents can help support the school in emergency situations
We will be scheduling these informational events soon and will notify families to encourage participation. Have a restful Columbus Day Weekend and stay safe.