Wilfred Volesky: District emergency procedures
Several weeks ago there was a call that came to the high school which stated that a bomb would go off at the middle school and high school that afternoon. As has been the case in the past, we followed our emergency procedures that are in place at each school when incidents such as this occur. The manner in which we handled this incident did initiate some phone calls, and so I would like to describe our emergency procedures.
The emergency procedures in all of our schools are very similar. However, there are differences because of the way that the facility is constructed and the age of the students served. But if you were to pick up an emergency manual from any of the schools the procedures for the various emergency incidents would be fairly similar.
When a bomb threat is received at a school, the person receiving the call, which in most cases is the secretary, needs to follow procedures outlined in the emergency manual on how to handle these types of calls. I will not discuss the specific procedures other than to say that the secretary needs to listen carefully to what the caller is saying and write down any specific information given. As soon as possible, the secretary needs to alert the Principal, who then will call the local law enforcement. As soon as law enforcement is alerted, the Principal will inform the Superintendent of the bomb threat.
Law enforcement and school officials immediately meet to review the information that they have and then decide what the proper course of action will be. In bomb threat situations a decision needs to be made that will ensure the safety of students and staff. Normally the decision is either to evacuate or to lockdown the facility. If we lockdown the facility, an announcement is made so teachers understand which of two lockdown procedures need to be followed. Law enforcement officials will search the building for any objects that are suspicious in any way. Using the computer network, teachers will be asked to check for any objects in their classroom that are suspicious in nature and to call the office immediately to alert law enforcement if they find anything.
When in lockdown, students and staff are to remain in their classroom. There are adults that will escort a student to the restroom if necessary. Otherwise, everyone remains in the room in which they were at when the lockdown began.
The lockdown for the bomb threat that we received several weeks ago lasted less than an hour. The lockdown was cancelled at about 2:25 p.m. after law enforcement officials searched the high school and middle school and found nothing that looked suspicious. After discussions with law enforcement, it was decided that we would operate the remaining part of the day as usual.
One of the questions that parents asked was why we did not evacuate the buildings. One of the lessons that we have learned from Columbine and other school emergencies is not to evacuate buildings if you do not know where bombs are located. In many cases bombs are located in areas where a large number of students would congregate when evacuation attempts are made. In our case, we had no idea of where the bombs were located. So it was decided that it was safer to search classrooms and allow students to remain in classrooms that appeared to be safe. If the search of a classroom would have revealed any suspicious looking objects we would have evacuated the classroom and surrounding area. The search conducted by law enforcement did not reveal any suspicious objects.
Another question that parents had was why they did not get information about the bomb threat. We
could have created a memo after the bomb threat was over and given it to the students to take home. This has not proven to be a very successful way of communicating with parents in the past. We felt a better option was to call the Bismarck Tribune and get the accurate information to them so they could print a story the following day that would be available to anyone. This same information will also be placed on the school website.
Next year we plan to purchase a rapid communications system for our district. This will enable us to send a message to all parents throughout the district by using an email address, cell phone number or home phone number or a combination of the three so that you can be sure to receive the message and receive it within seconds. This rapid communication system would be convenient when school emergencies occur, when school is cancelled or will be starting late or simply for a message regarding a major school announcement. We will inform you if this purchase is made.
As I stated earlier, each of our schools have an emergency manual. If you ever wanted to review this manual, please stop at the school office where your child attends and ask to review this manual. Your assistance during a school emergency is very important, and will help a great deal in keeping our students safe.