Shelter-in-Place Drill Prompts PA to Improve Alert System

Phillips Academy hopes to implement cell phone alert capabilities and other new communication methods after the Shelter-in-Place drill failed to satisfy Phillips Academy’s Risk Management team. The school is investigating the possibility of sending text messages or voicemails to all cell phones on campus. They are also considering the addition of a siren, or more likely a new discordant ring for the bells, according to Head of the Office of Human Resources and Risk Management Deborah Martin. Ms. Martin said of the drill, “What it taught us is the ways we have to notify students, faculty, and staff are [effective], but just not robust enough.” According to Martin, the dense, antique walls of many campus buildings make it difficult to hear the megaphones that Phillips Academy Public Safety (PAPS) cars are currently equipped with. The other current methods of warning the community of an emergency are e-mail and voicemail. PAPS Manager Thomas Conlon said, “Nothing’s 100 percent, as we’ve found out, but we try to look to the best technological [methods] to get the word out.” While the gravity of the safety issue was highlighted by the tragedy at Virginia Tech last week, Phillips Academy was already in the process of revising the Shelter-In-Place drill. The event did, however, spark a more urgent discussion among faculty members and administrators. Associate Head of School Becky Sykes said, “We’re still trying to refine our plans for Shelter-in-Place. You know, every large campus has to be concerned about having many layers of notification and many layers of security as well. We’ve been talking this week about having the capacity to send text messages to students. “ This summer, Ms. Martin and the rest of the Risk Management team hope to complete their investigation into more effective communication methods. Another Shelter-in-Place drill in the fall will evaluate the team’s progress. “We’re looking at how to implement or structure some more things that would work for us. So [the Shelter-In-Place drill] is a continuing appraisal of what we do,” said Mr. Conlon.