Administration Deems Emergency Drill a Success

The entire Phillips Academy community practiced a shelter-in-place emergency drill between 10:38 and 11 a.m. on Wednesday. According to the committee responsible for planning the drill, it was a successful test of the new procedure, though some students questioned its effectiveness. The emergency lockdown aimed to get the entire community safely indoors as quickly as possible. PA Public Safety (PAPS) announced the commencement of the drill through several different modes of communication. Cars from PAPS and the Office of Physical Plant (OPP) patrolled the campus roads, blasting an alert through loudspeakers. Students, faculty, and staff received e-mail and voicemail warnings, as well as an emergency alert message posted on PAnet. Calls were made over OPP radios to all department offices. In the event of a real emergency, alert messages would be e-mailed to parents, posted on the Parent Portal, and displayed on the Andover public website. However, these means of notification were not utilized during Wednesday’s drill to avoid causing confusion or panic for parents and other off-campus communities. Possible threats that would provoke a real emergency lockdown include an intruder on campus, dangerous weather, or a hazardous chemical spill. A chemical spill could result from an ammonia leak at the ice rink, or from an accident on Route 28. The lockdown procedure directs students who are outside to immediately enter the nearest building. In the drill, students and faculty left hallways to take cover in offices or classrooms. The doors were locked, windows shut, and lights turned off. Members of the community were asked to crouch down to practice avoiding detection through windows and doors, and to keep quiet. If a fire alarm were set off during the lockdown, PAPS asked that everyone remain in a building unless an actual fire is seen, or unless an authority figure informs them of the fire. During the lockdown, everyone is required to remain indoors until the the All-Clear signal is given. This signal is sent across campus through various forms of communication, including school-wide e-mails and an announcement on PAnet. Monitors were stationed around the buildings on campus for three purposes: to determine how quickly the community accomplished the drill, to assess which means of communication first alerted the students, and to encourage students to take the drill seriously. Deborah T. Martin, Director of Human Resources and Risk Management, said before the drill, “We’re hoping the all-clear signal will be given within 25 minutes. Ideally [the duration of the drill should be] even less, but because it’s a new experience, we don’t know what to expect.” The goal was successfully reached as the entire community managed to get indoors within 22 minutes. The monitors noted that the most effective communication mechanisms were the broadcast message through the speakerphones of the department secretaries and the school-wide e-mail. The loudspeakers in cars, on the other hand, were not as efficient. Monitors believed that the broadcasts were not loud enough, and that it took too long for the motor vehicles to relay the message all over campus. Ms. Martin said, “[The monitors] were very pleased that everyone in the community took the drill seriously. People did what they were supposed to do, and stayed where they were supposed to stay… We were also very happy that it happened so quickly and that it didn’t take up a huge part of the morning.” A number of students, however, were less enthusiastic about the procedure. Matt Cranney ’08 said, “It was utterly ridiculous. I hope they’re saving money on insurance, because other than that, it was a total waste of time.” Another praised the motivation behind the drill, but questioned its effectiveness in a real emergency situation. “I think it’s a bad idea to have everyone in the same room if there was a real intruder,” Ishan Kapoor ’09 said. A committee of 13 members met six times during the fall term to organize the shelter-in-place drill. Ms. Martin, who served as the Chair of the Shelter-In-Place Committee, said, “Everyone can do a fire drill in their sleep. But for everyone to stay in place…this drill was to see if we’re capable of that, since we realized we’d never practiced the procedure.” The entire PA community was alerted of the drill several days before it actually occurred, due to announcements on PANet and at ASM. Faculty attended a presentation and there were three staff meetings on the Shelter-In-Place drill. One such meeting was videotaped and subsequently shown to the Commons employees, with a translator available for those who do not speak fluent English. While everyone expected the emergency lockdown to occur during Wednesday’s classes, the exact time was not disclosed. This measure was designed to make the drill more realistic. Some students disagreed, however, saying that the lack of surprise destroyed any element of realism. Ms. Martin said, “My expectation is that at some future date, we will have a shelter-in-place drill that will be unannounced.”