Streamline communication during school emergencies

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, LOHS went into lockdown for 45 minutes after the administration determined that an armed individual had entered the school without checking in. Ultimately, the man was identified as a Portland police officer who had been invited as a guest speaker for LOHS’ Criminal Justice class. We are thankful for the seriousness with which everyone responded and believe this incident serves as an opportunity to improve communication between staff and students during emergency situations.

Teachers received email updates from principal Rollin Dickinson and assistant principal Brian Crawford over the course of the lockdown. These emails stated that our head of campus security, Meadow Lemon, had observed the man with a weapon, that police had arrived and later, that there was no sign of the individual in or around the building. Additionally, Central Office sent automated calls with similar information to people registered through the district ListServ.

While some teachers shared these updates with their students upon receiving them, others did not. Creating a consistent method of informing students would be most beneficial. First, understanding that the lockdown is real and not a drill encourages students to be more vigilant and aware of their surroundings. Second, many bring their phones into the lockdown environment anyway and communicate with students in other classrooms. An accessible stream of information may prevent the spread of rumors and help students ascertain what’s fact and what’s not, reducing undue anxiety that results from adding layers of uncertainty to an already nerve-wracking situation. Third, students can help resolve these sorts of emergencies when privy to the developments — one of the emails included a picture of the individual in question taken from security footage, which a student recognized as the guest speaker.

Another area of concern is that students who were not in classrooms during the time of the lockdown announcement were told conflicting information about where to go. Those who were outside the auditorium, for example, were told to move into the main office, then to an administrator’s office and lastly to a conference room, putting them at greater risk by having to move locations multiple times.

A solution would be to amend the current lockdown or emergency protocol to include steps to inform students about new developments and details about how students and staff should deal with alternative situations (a lockdown during break or lunch, for example, or more generally, when students aren’t in classrooms).

Undoubtedly, the manner by which we act during these sorts of situations varies based on the nature of the circumstances. A specific protocol cannot always be fail-safe. But one that gives staff and students a list of straightforward options that they can pick from is most beneficial. The reality is that it’s always possible for an unexpected emergency to arise. What we have control over, however, is how prepared we are to respond, and streamlining that response would go a long way towards ensuring the safety of everyone involved.