By Kendra Schwartz and Ashley Hocking
An alarm sounded and students quickly filed outside Thursday morning. Many students expected this to just be another drill, but this was not the case.
Ten minutes later, students were herded into the stands of the football stadium. Confused, cold and groggy from second hour, students mindlessly followed their peers.
It wasn’t until the students were moved back inside that they received news of what had transpired.
Assistant Principal Mike Norris made an announcement (see video).
In the rush of the events, Norris misspoke. He called it a fire drill, not a fire alarm.
“I was trying to get the schedule out quickly to make adjustments,” Norris said. “It was not a drill.”
Administrators were not able to announce the root of the problem to the student body until they had come inside from the stadium.
“We had not fully determined what the cause of the alarm was at the time [when students were gathered outside],” Norris said. “So to give out an announcement at that point would have been premature. A lot of that announcement had to do with the lunch schedule, the logistics of how we’re going to finish the rest of the day, the lunch schedule and sixth period. We didn’t know that until we were able to get everybody back in because we didn’t know what time everybody was going to come back in. There just wasn’t any real information to go out yet.”
However, Norris and the other administrators were impressed with how the student body dealt with the chaos. Although a few students used this as an opportunity to get out of class, most students cooperated with faculty and staff well throughout the confusion.
“There will always be a small handful of students that will try to use this as some sort of excuse to sneak out to [Veteran’s] Park or something like that, trying to think that they can do it in the confusion,” Norris said. “That’s normal; that happens. There’s 1,500 kids in this building. Ninety-nine percent of them are going to do exactly what they should to get through the rest of the day because we’ve got a lot of good kids. The couple of knuckleheads that take advantage of it would take advantage of whatever. We’ll deal with those.”
Although students were unaware of the conditions inside the school building, they followed the directions of teachers, police and security guards.
“Once the fire department was coming, and we excavated the kids to the the football stadium, which is the next place we go after we clear the building, everybody went,” Norris said. “My understanding, from talking to teachers and staff members that were at the football stadium, is that the kids were great out there. Police and firefighters showed up. The police helped order the kids to the football stadium.”
The source of the alarm was actually a faulty fire detector in the auditorium. This detector, in turn, held the student body in the stands for roughly 35 minutes.
“The slowest thing, which still went smooth, was getting the electrician from the district here to pull the faulty detector down, so we could reset the alarms,” Norris said. “We had to make sure we removed that from the system and they would reset to make sure other things that would set alarms off too.”
Some students and staff, however, were confused by alarms that stopped ringing after a few minutes. A few of the teachers in the tech wing of the school even returned to their classes, assuming it was all clear.
“Once the building is clear, then we sometimes do turn the alarms off because we have people in here working trying to figure out what’s going on,” Norris said. “No one should have re-entered the building until they were specifically told students could re-enter the building.
“A reminder will go out to teachers that they do not re-enter the building until they are told to re-enter the building,” he said. “Absence of the alarm is not a reason to come back in. If you think about it, if there was a real fire, the panel that controls the whole system could have burned up.”
Although the policy is to not return to the school until the school is cleared, many teachers were concerned with missing vital class time.
“We have a lot of good teachers here,” Norris said. “I think they’ll figure it out. It’s one of those unfortunate incidents that affected [us]. Really only fourth period was relatively unscathed to remain the same length of time because of lunches, but we’ll just roll with it and we’ll figure it out. It might be that some of the lessons plans won’t get done until tomorrow, but we’ll figure it out.”
Although teachers stayed relatively informed throughout the day, many parents only received desperate calls or rash texts. Later in the day, the administrators planned on contacting parents and guardians.
“Parents don’t get notified until after the fact,” Norris said. “The procedure is that there’s an administrator in charge at the district level. That person is told first. That person makes the public announcement. We did have several parents call because obviously kids are texting. So, we had several parents call. The receptionist stays in here, unless she has to be evacuated. She gives reassuring responses, like ‘Everybody is evacuated safely. Everybody is fine. Once we know there isn’t a fire, we’ll have everybody back in.’”
Administrators predict most parents had already been notified by concerned students.
“We’ll probably have an email or a call go out,” Assistant Principal Mark Preut said. “Most students have probably already texted, called or contacted parents somehow to let them know what’s going on.”
If a message is sent out to parents by phone, it will not be individual calls but simply a “robo-call” from the district level.
In the event of a real fire, the procedure would be similar, but administrators predict that process would go just as smoothly as it did in this false fire.
“We’re really ecstatic about how great the kids were,” Norris said. “You guys did a great job out there at the football stadium. We really appreciate that. There were a whole lot more students out there than staff members. If you guys had decided to be unmanageable, you could have. But, you didn’t. You guys were great and we appreciate that.”