Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Lockdowns in Hamilton

It’s the fear, the panic, the sense of dread that slowly radiates through your body. You can’t breathe or move. Should you run, hide? Or maybe, just maybe, this is all a drill.

In recent years the amount of school shootings and other emergencies have increased to the point where we now have what we know as Lockdown drills. Lockdown drills are meant to prepare us for an actual scenario in which we would need to protect ourselves and to teach us the severity of what could really happen.

In 2006, two bills were passed in Michigan which stated that any building housing students K-12 are required to conduct a minimum of two Lockdown drills “in which the occupants are restricted to the interior of the building and the building [is] secured” (Michigan.gov).

Only two weeks ago, on January 23rd, Hamilton High School had a lockdown drill that took place during 2nd hour. Although it was mentioned over the PA System that it was a drill, many did not hear it, causing panic in both the students and some of the staff. I spoke with the building principals, Mr. Rehkopf and Mr. Braschler, about the recent drill, as well as the history of lockdown drills in Hamilton and some of their tips or suggestions that they have to ensure that every lockdown drill, or even a real lockdown, runs smoothly and with as little difficulties as possible.

One way to ensure this involves something that many students are not particularly happy about. During a lockdown drill, or in the case of a real lockdown, Mr Rehkopf emphasized that students should try to refrain from posting, tweeting or texting about it. “We need to keep all lines of communication open,” he explains. If all of the students are texting their parents or friends, the cell phone towers and other means such as the Internet will become slow or so overwhelmed that they may not work at all. In the case of such an emergency we need to keep this communication readily available for use by officials. They understand the urgency that students feel because of this, but it does not help to worry outsiders or to make it impossible for help to communicate with the school.

Another interesting point involves the latest lockdown drill that took place in Hamilton. Many recall hearing the “Mr. Strong Call” before the drill and it has been a popular topic for discussion as to what it was for and what a “Mr. Strong Call” actually is. A “Mr. Strong Call” is simply a call that a teacher or other administrator can make if they need help perhaps controlling a student or taking care of a situation in their classroom that they cannot take care of solely by themselves. A “Mr. Strong Call,” though it was involved in the scenario used for the latest drill, it is not directly correlated with lockdowns. In fact, according to Mr. Rehkopf, “Mr. Strong Calls” are rarely associated with lockdowns and are not a precursor, in any way, to one.

When speaking to Mr. Rehkopf and Mr. Braschler, I asked a little bit about the history of lockdown drills in Hamilton. Mr. Braschler confirmed that, before the mandate was passed, they had not participated in any lockdown drills, and that once it was passed they had to work two lockdown drills, at least one untraditional, into the school year. After the laws were passed in 2006, the rules, although in place, were not very strict. Today, in order to have a Lockdown drill, an administrator must contact the local authorities a week in advance so they have adequate time to prepare in case they want to come and observe the lockdown. Rules, regulations, and plans must also be put in place at the beginning of each school year so that teachers and other school leaders know what to do and where to go in case an emergency were to happen. After the drill, the principal or another school administrator must fill out a sheet describing the date, time, how the drill went, the scenario (if one was used), and any other specifics of the drill.

As stated before, the school must have at least one untraditional lockdown drill. To explain, an untraditional drill would include one that occurred during passing time, during lunch, as the students were arriving at school, or one that were to block off a certain section of the school so that students would have to think quickly and logically to get to a safe location. This helps the students as well as staff prepare for an incident that perhaps doesn’t follow standard procedure.

These lockdown drills, aside from preparing students and staff, also allow the school leaders and local law enforcement to find weak spots in the system. Perhaps there is an area that is not adequately protected, or perhaps the students are unaware of what to do in certain emergencies. These drills help to solve those problems before they become a matter of life or death.

Both the “Mr. Strong Calls” and the Lockdown drills were created to protect students and staff from possibly dangerous situations. These tips are to help the process of the drills and to make sure that everyone remains safe in case something were to happen. The last word of advice from Mr. Rehkopf is this: “Hide.” Whether it is in a classroom, the library, or even in the bathroom. Try to hide yourself as much as possible. Sometimes, during a lockdown, students may be caught in a bathroom and not know about the lockdown. Mr. Rehkopf suggests students go back to the bathroom and hide in one of the stalls. Although bathroom doors do not have locks on them, hiding there is better than nothing. Students will most likely not be able to get in any of the classrooms because teachers are instructed that once they close their doors they are not to open them unless an official gives the okay. This means that the bathroom is probably the safest place for a student. During a drill or even a real lockdown, your main concern is to get to safety; to hide; and, whatever you do, to keep quiet.

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