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Reflecting on the SHS/STEM Evacuation

by Dr. Ellin Booras

Two weeks ago, on October 14, 2014, SHS/STEM Academy was presented with the challenge of responding to a bomb threat. Now that we have had the opportunity to reflect on both our prior training and new protocols, we are pleased to share some thoughts and ideas with the school and larger Sandwich community.

The History of the School Safety Protocols in Sandwich

The Sandwich Public Schools has  a long standing and mutually supportive relationship with the Sandwich Police Department and the Sandwich Fire Department. This partnership has been forged over years of collaborative efforts resulting in school based and district wide protocols on a myriad of safety issues. Each of the four schools has a Building Emergency Response Team (BERT). These teams meet on a regular basis for updates and ongoing trainings. The BERT team protocols are part of a national model and the sophistication of the partnership among schools, fire and police personnel has been heralded at the national level.

In the recent decennial report from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), Sandwich High School was commended for “The consistent format used by the School Safety group to provide a safe environment throughout the high school and district.”

Protocols in Action…

Plans and procedures were put to the test on October 14, one month into the newly configured SHS/STEM Academy. Aware of the rash of bomb threats impacting schools in nearby communities and throughout the state at schools and colleges, building leaders reviewed the protocols and expectations with office personnel before there was any threat directed at SHS/STEM. This proved to be important as secretaries, administrators, nurses,and BERT members went into action.

During and after the proceedings, we deferred to fire and law enforcement. In an emergency such as this one, the Fire Chief is the person in charge of the situation. Students and staff were patient and respectful of the chain of command.

Local state and federal personnel on site remarked on the maturity, cooperation and kindness of our students. SHS students showed concern in many ways for their STEM schoolmates and all students looked out for one another.

Following the evacuation, police and fire personnel the protocols for re-entry. We reviewed and revised roles to expedite this multi-step process.

Take Aways – Protocols to ensure student and staff safety.

  • While there is no intention of asking any student or staff member to leave their cell phones and personal devices behind in an evacuation, we do ask that all members of the SHS/STEM community refrain from using their devices while exiting the building. Activating a cell phone can pose a danger if it is near a potential incendiary device.
  • Parents are asked to wait in the lower lot and follow the requests of SHS/STEM staff members assigned to that location. Parents are asked to remain in their vehicles.
  • Students and staff are encouraged  to exit the building with their backpacks, keys, etc. if those items are with them at the time of the evacuation.
  • Students and staff may not compromise prescribed evacuation pathways to go to a locker or classroom to retrieve belongings.
  • Students are asked to wait within their advisory groups where they will receive updates.

Take Aways – Reflecting on the Events of October 14

  • In the area of communication, we learned that families of the K6 schools were informed about the  7-12 evacuation before the families of 7-12 students, adding to the stress and anxiety. The reason for this was that SHS/STEM personnel could not re-enter the building to make the Alert Now phone calls or emails. Learning from this, the district has put mobile protocols into place. These procedures will expedite communication, provide uniformity in its timing, and ensure that communication is not dependent on building access.
  • An example of success was Athletics Administrator Neil Murphy’s ability to execute all changes in athletics including regarding routing of buses and rescheduling of games from his mobile device.
  • We will continue staff training using new checklists to inform level of threat assessment

Appreciation for the outcomes

As is often the case and was so on October 14, 2014, schools, police, and fire work in an orchestrated and collaborative manner respecting and adhering to role delineation. There is no way to adequately express our gratitude for the strength of these partnerships and the expertise, dedication, and compassion of all personnel representative of each group.

In closing, we wish to extend an expression of gratitude to all involved along with special appreciation to our teachers and students for their ability to put Blue Knight Pride into action in ways which were recognized and appreciated by teachers, administrators, fire, police, and federal agencies.