Lockdown drill helps district plan for an emergency

Posted by Alicia Smith on 12/10/2018 2:05:00 PM

Superintendent Dr. Baiocco speaks with members of the EPD. Standing in the hallway outside of his office, Principal Jeffrey Olender tapped an app on his cell phone, triggering an announcement to come over the PA system that the emergency lockdown drill was to begin.
Within seconds, all the classroom doors were shut, lights turned off and the Carl L. Dixson Primary School was silent.

It was an eerie sensation when suddenly there was no one in the hallways, singing in music class or discussing a lesson with their teacher — just total silence.

The silence continued as the principal, superintendent of schools and members of the Elmsford Police Department did a thorough check of the building, knocking on classroom doors and looking in the bathrooms.

“You can hear a pin drop,” commented Superintendent Dr. Marc Baiocco.

“These kids are always good,” Police Commissioner Frank Rescigno said.

A similar scenario played out at both the Alice E. Grady Elementary School and Alexander Hamilton Junior/Senior High School as the district participated in an emergency lockdown drill on Dec. 4. The school community had received a letter ahead of time from the superintendent that the drill was to take place.

“As you know, preparation is key to safety and we are committed to ensuring the health and well-being of all or our students and staff in all situations,” the letter said.

“The purpose of the drill is to really test our practices, our hardware and building resources,” the superintendent said before the drill began.

“We are constantly looking to improve,” he continued. “It’s just an unfortunate but necessary practice.”

At Grady, the last noise to be heard when the lockdown was announced was a teacher inquiring if there was anyone in the bathrooms before total silence reigned there as well.

Minutes before, there had been a line of students having fun at the school’s Holiday Boutique sale, and suddenly they “disappeared.” A peek into a classroom showed a dark room with seemingly no one in it and books left on desks.

Again, the classrooms were checked one by one and notes taken on any suggestions for staff.

One of the officers assisting noted that even the lunch staff had participated and were nowhere to be found.

“This was good,” Dr. Baiocco said of the effort at Grady.

“It gets better every year,” Commissioner Rescigno said.

Entering AHHS through a side door the entourage of police and school administrators prompted a look of surprise Principal Joseph Engelhardt check a room on one student’s face, which soon relaxed when offered a “good morning” by one of the EPD members.

Like at the other schools, an announcement was made and after a brief bustle of keys rattling and doors being shut, all went silent there too.

“I also like to check the nooks and crannies,” Mr. Engelhardt said as he peeked into a stairwell during his check of classroom doors.

“A diversion,” he concluded when he found one door unlocked but no students or staff inside the classroom.

“Good stuff,” Dr. Baiocco said when the team regrouped after the check and the lockdown ended.

The district-coordinated drills like this one take place twice a year and individual school have their own separate drills too. These types of drills have been done in the district for the past six years. As the practice sessions took place through the years, members of the police were asked to join administrators so they could become familiar with the buildings in the event of an actual emergency. The district’s technology department has also played more of a role as new high-tech security measures have been put in place.

“It’s creating awareness with more and more people,” Dr. Baiocco said.

This drill was planned. However, not all of them are. One spontaneous drill took place during the busy lunch time part of the day as a way to test students and staff, Dr. Baiocco said.

The original portions of the building at Dixson date back to 1894 and despite its older architecture, it is surprisingly equipped for emergency circumstances, Dr. Baiocco said. There are large closets in the classrooms where students stay during an emergency, and a storage area that can also be used to ensure the safety of those inside the building.

Part of the purpose of the drill is to ensure students and staff react appropriately should an emergency arise. When they hear the lockdown announcement, the classroom lights are shut off, students hide and everyone is instructed to never open a door until the “all clear” is given.

At Dixson, Dr. Baiocco tested these instructions when he knocked on a classroom door and called out to kindergarten teacher Angeline Capocci.

“Open up,” he said, knocking on her classroom door. “It’s Dr. Baiocco.”

No one inside the classroom responded.

The drills also offer the district an opportunity to test the technology it uses in an emergency situation. The district uses Sonar Cloud, a service which allows administrators to lock down a building with their cell phones.

In the future, Dr. Baiocco said, the district would like to upgrade to a system that would automatically alert the police. Currently, when an actual lockdown is announced, someone has to call 9-1-1.

Once the drills at each school were complete, the superintendent had a brief meeting with school administrators and the police, who served as the escorts, to discuss the day’s event.

“Over the years we’ve perfected things,” Dr. Baiocco said.

Among the improvements were putting signs in the windows with the room number, especially important for rooms which face the courtyard at AHHS. The signs alert emergency responders to identify places inside the building. In addition, the high school has added tinted windows, which makes it more difficult to see inside.

One question which persistently comes up after each drill is what to do with the blinds on the windows. The debate centers on whether they should be closed or remain open.

“The message to staff is just get out of the way,” of the windows, the superintendent said.

The district is in the process of making laminated instruction sheets that will be placed in each classroom to serve as a reminder on what to do in the event of an emergency.

There is a difference, Dr. Baiocco noted, between a lockout and a lockdown. During a lockout, all of the doors are locked and monitored and no one is allowed in or out of the building. Students and staff carry on as they normally would. This practice was put to the test last year when a shooting suspect in nearby Tarrytown was on the loose.

A lockdown, Dr. Baiocco said, “is when everyone is basically cornered in their area.”

Dr. Baiocco said the next steps would be to coordinate a village cabinet meeting with the mayor to review the protocols and have village department heads visit each of the school buildings so they can become familiar with the layout. In the future, the district would like to install technology that will not only alert the police but also send them floor plans of the school buildings.

The superintendent is also reviewing how the district can work with contractors who come to the school and may not be familiar with the emergency protocols and do not know where to go or what to do in a lockdown.

When asked how students respond to these drills, the superintendent said when the drills were first implemented students were anxious. However, now that they have been in place for so long, students know exactly what to do and it has become more routine.

“It’s like with fire drills,” Dr. Baiocco said. “It’s almost Pavlovian, when the fire alarm sounds, they are up and out. This is becoming like that.”