Schools ready for emergencies, police say

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Williston public schools are well prepared for emergencies requiring the buildings to be secured, according to Williston police.

“I’m very impressed with the amount of preparation that they’ve done here,” Williston Police Sgt. Bart Chamberlain said after a “secure the building” drill at Allen Brook School last Thursday. “I’m confident that they’re fully prepared right now.”

Last week’s drill was the first of its kind for Allen Brook, an elementary school serving pre-school through fourth graders. Though the school regularly conducts evacuation drills to prepare for emergencies, “secure the building” drills, also known as “lockdown” drills, require students and staff to be locked inside school.

In the wing of the building housing the Esprit team, when the signal was given to lock down the building last week, students lined up single file and quietly went to their secure location. In less than one minute, the hallway was empty of children and there was silence – save the whispering voice of one teacher telling the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk to children who might have been scared by the dark.

Williston Police Dispatcher Scott Morris, who has a background in school safety issues, said the children in the wing of the school he was monitoring also responded well.

“The kids were quiet, orderly, right to their assigned position,” Morris said. “Everybody did what they were supposed to do.”

Last month Allen Brook School staff conducted the drill without students to determine flaws in the system, said John Terko, the school’s principal. That practice was valuable, he said.

Terko said the lead-up to last week’s drill was extensive as it was a first for the young students. Two letters went out to parents letting them know in advance about the drill. He and guidance counselors spoke with each class in advance of the drill to tell them what to expect and what to do.

“Most of the questions were ‘why would you do an inside drill instead of an outside drill?’” Terko said.

Their explanations focused on situations like a tractor-trailer spill on Talcott Road, Terko said, or an airplane crash in the school’s field.

When asked by a student, staff acknowledged it would also be used if there were an intruder, but said that wasn’t likely to happen.

Students also asked what they were supposed to do if they were in the nurse’s office, out at recess or in the cafeteria, Terko said.

“ ‘Every single teacher in this building knows what to do and where to go,’” Terko said they’d emphasized to the children. “ ‘No matter where you are, (when you hear the signal), stop, look, listen.’”

Terko said he is appreciative of the involvement of the Williston Police Department, with whom he and other members of a school crisis team have been meeting every two weeks. Their ideas have been helpful, Terko said.

Sgt. Chamberlain said the school crisis team also involves Williston Central School, and he said he thought that school also is fully prepared for a situation requiring the building to be secured.

“I think (parents) can rest confident that any precaution that can be taken, has been taken,” Chamberlain said.

Allen Brook School likely will have two more such drills this year, Terko said. Williston Central School will also hold a lockdown drill, but the date has not been set, according to principal Jacqueline Parks. She said teachers have conducted a drill without students in preparation. Champlain Valley Union High School Principal Sean McMannon said CVU also has completed one such drill so far this year.