Thursday, May 24, 2018

What to Expect for Communications In the Event of An Emergency

There is no doubt that the increase in school-related violence seems to be a troubling trend at the national level and even though some of the recent tragedies seem so far away, in my mind (as I'm sure in your mind too) they seem way too close to home!  

The Gorham Schools has worked diligently over the past several years to create an Emergency Response Plan and to communicate that plan effectively to our staff and local first responders.  We have developed close relationships with our local Police and Fire departments, and we have focused a great deal of energy over this past year and a half in strengthening our already strong response plans.  Just this past weekend we worked collaboratively with the Gorham PD and Fire Department as well as Cumberland County first responders to conduct a full-scale active shooter training at Gorham High School.  It was one of the most intense learning experiences I have ever had as an educational leader!  We learned so much just during this one day exercise and we are so very thankful to our local first responders and staff/student volunteers who participated.

During this drill, it became obvious to me that one of the largest pieces that a school must deal with in an emergency situation such as this (other than following our lockdown & other protocols to keep students as safe as possible) is in the area of communications with parents.  For example, I know that as a parent, if I were to get an emergency message from the school letting me know that there was a emergency situation occurring the very first thing I would want to do would be to rush to the scene and get my child!  I am suspecting, in fact,  that it would take armed guards to prevent me from doing so!  Problem with that fictional scenario is that this is likely to be exactly what you would NOT want to do because police would not let you anywhere near the scene and by going there, you would be detracting capacity from our emergency responders who could otherwise be addressing the emergency itself.  So please, if there is an actual lockdown situation at one of our schools, do not go to the school.  Instead, wait for further instructions from the school department.

As parents, I know that you need to know what to expect and how best to support your child/children if such an emergency were to occur.  Of course, NONE OF US wants these types of events to occur here in the Gorham Schools, but the fact of the matter is that even though we work hard to build and maintain positive learning environments for our students - our schools are no different than those that have already experienced these tragedies.  We must be prepared.

Please understand that I can't give you details for locations of reunification spots, or details on specifically how we would respond to emergencies because that information is confidential and information we only want to be communicating with local law enforcement.  However, what I can share with you is what types of communication you can expect, how often, and using what methodologies so that we are all better prepared to respond if we have to.

First and foremost, please know that there are times that our schools go into lockdowns or soft lockdowns, or when evacuations take place for reasons other than a true emergency.  Schools must practice fire evacuations 8 times per year.  We also must practice lockdowns a minimum of 2 times per year.  Additionally, schools may conduct a soft lockdown when something is occurring outside our buildings that we are unsure of, but things that do not yet rise to the level of a true emergency.  These circumstances are often precautionary in nature and are not actual emergencies.  We also have had times when our "panic buttons" have accidentally been pressed, sending a school into a lockdown.  In these non-emergency situations, we typically will send information to parents via our automated email and text system so that you are aware something occurred and so that we can give you any other pertinent information.  We would typically send these messages out when we first became aware of the situation (or as close as possible to when we became aware), and would then send updates roughly every 30 minutes until we could send a final message saying that the issue has been resolved.  Again, all of this information would be shared via our automated messaging system in the form of email or text.

In the event of a true emergency situation in one of our schools, we would:

  • Send an automated phone message, email and text notification to all contacts associated with each student.  
  • The recorded message would let parents know in general terms what is happening and inform parents about what they shoul dod and where they can go to get more information and to pick up students in an orderly and non-disruptive manner.
  • This phone message would be repeated at least every 30 minutes and possibly more as new information becomes available.
  • Once emergency situation has ended, a final automated phone, email and text would be sent out to all contacts providing a summary of what occurred and reminding parents about procedures on how to pick up students.
  • After the final automated phone call, other follow up communications will be sent out via email and text.  
  • Messages would likely continue over the course of the next several days following any emergency situation that would contain information about how we are responding as a school and resources that you should be aware of as parents to assist students and others in recovering from the emergency situation.

Again, none of us wants to think about these issues and what could happen.  They are scary for me to think about and I do not have children in the school system directly - even though I kinda think of all the children of Gorham as "my children" (but that is for another post)! ☺ 

Please know that the Gorham Schools takes great pride in our overall positive and inclusive educational environments.  We work hard to create them and maintain them.  In fact, we regularly score 6-7 points higher than the state average on school climate-related questions from our Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey (MIYHS - a survey completed annually by middle and high school students from across the state).  We also take great pride in being prepared for emergency situations and in communicating effectively with our parents.  I hope this message has helped you to better understand what you can expect as as parent for communications in the event of a true emergency.  If you have questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me (  If I can answer them, I will.

Thank you!