Evacuation drill pays off during bomb threat
On September 13, 2017 West received a bomb threat during the school day. Making the executive decision in coordination with both the Brown and Outagamie County Bomb Squad and the Oshkosh Police Department, the administration at West evacuated the building, ending in the result of sending students home. While administration was on site making a plan to lessen the chaos, Deputy Superintendent David Gundlach, along with other administrators, worked together at Central Office to put together a press release in order to inform the public.
“We kicked in our incident command process. The Superintendent and the Executive Director from administration came over to West,” he said. “They worked with the building staff and created a game plan in order to follow the school district’s safety plan.”
Working for law enforcement as well as the school district, School Liaison Officer Mike Wissink helped with communication for the evacuation.
“We, the law enforcement, started talking about how to evacuate and with administration came up with the evacuation plan. Typically, the decision is left up to the administration to decide whether to evacuate or not, and then we take it from there,” he said.
To inform the teachers of the situation, update emails were sent throughout the morning. Math teacher Doris Bailey received these.
“I got several emails throughout the morning of various different things that led up to the one email that said we are evacuating,” she said.
Safety concerns influenced the decision to email teachers instead of making an announcement, according to Principal Erin Kohl.
“If there had been a student in possession of a bomb or device to let a bomb off, that student would know we would be evacuating the building and could have tipped them off,” she said.
Creating the press release for parents as well as the public, Gundlach and others at Central Office had a system to stay in touch with those at the high school. In order to get the message out clearly with as little confusion as possible and without false information from students, communications to parents were sent before the alarm for the evacuation was pulled, via campus messenger, email, Facebook and Twitter.
“We were creating the campus message for parents and students and as soon as we were done with the Google Doc, many people edited it in order to make the process quicker but still have accuracy without being misleading,” Gundlach said. “At 10:54 the communications went out, at 10:50 the fire alarm was pulled, with the foreshadowing that at 10:56 the majority of students would start piecing the situation together,” he said.
Kohl finds the drills the previous day as an important factor in how well the response was to the evacuation.
“We were able to get nearly 2,000 people out of the building in just over a minute so it was a very effective response,” she said.
Bailey also notes that the drills were helpful in such a drastic situation.
“Our instincts were just to follow procedure we did and practiced the day before,” she said. “For some reason it was the end of the hour and I told my students to leave everything behind, but they could take their phone if they wanted to, because we didn’t know we weren’t coming back, leaving everything like normal.”
With patience from students, only important questions remained.
“When we got out to the football field area, there was some questions of leaving from students who would normally be leaving, because they did not have other classes after my class. There was no confusion, just the question of what to do, especially because, I have seniors. Some of them had to go to work, but their keys were inside,” Bailey said.
From a student’s perspective, sophomore Mary Oman knew little of the situation as it was unfolding.
“Well, in our class our teacher didn’t really tell us anything, he just told us to go outside,” she said. “They could have improved it by letting us know the information they did have such as telling us to grab our keys and wallet.”
After being released to leave, Oman spent time with her peers as they waited together.
“We walked to Taco John’s and then got a ride,” she said. “Basically just chilled out until we had our tennis match afterwards which by then I wasn’t really focused on tennis.”
Dealing with the after effects of the threat, Wissink is in contact with the District Attorney.
“There is actually a charge that applies due to 9/11 and with everything happening in recent years, there is actually a terrorist charge that it falls under and that is the charge if the individual(s) are prosecuted that will apply,” he said.
Many civil rights may be taken away as well if a suspect is convicted of a felony charge.
“Ultimately, if you are charged with a felony you can never hunt, never vote, never own a gun and you cannot join the military,” Wissink said.
In order to convey the magnitude of the threat and the disruption it caused, everything from the day was documented and shared.
“The admin sent an email containing all activities and co-curricular events that were altered, lost or had to be rescheduled and the district attorney got it in case they were found so they knew how much the day was basically ruined,” Wissink said of the evidence gathering procedure.
The decisions and protocol followed over the course of these events had overwhelmingly positive feedback about the drill as opposed to negative, according to Kohl.
“There were a couple parents concerned with the distance between the track and the building. This issue was addressed to the police department and bomb squad and they felt comfortable enough that students were far enough away,” she said.
The track is a strategic location thought out by the West administration for various reasons in case of an emergency evacuation.
“It was identified as a meeting spot because there are bathrooms. In addition to the bathrooms, large group announcements can be made more efficiently as well. We have internet access and we can also evacuate to two other sites in the cities if need be,” Kohl said. “On Westfield by the track, there is a great access for busses to pick up kids to bus to another location.”
After the bomb threat, Gundlach encourages parents to check their notification setting on Infinite Campus in order to stay updated with new information in case of another emergency.
“I urge parents to sign-up for emails and text alerts through Infinite Campus to stay aware of what is happening. Also, following the district’s Facebook page and Twitter account can also lead to more knowledge of situations in the future.”