Preparing for intruders: new lockdown drills at THHS

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Fire drills may be familiar to Townsend Harris students, but on November 8, all students were dumbfounded as they pushed their chairs to the other side of the room and crowded away from the door. Most of them had never heard of, let alone experienced, an intruder drill. The lockdown opened the eyes of many students to the possible dangers they could face from outside intruders. These mandatory drills, started by the DOE, are intended to prepare students and staff for a potential armed threat in their community.

Depending on the type of intruder, there are two different lockdowns. A soft lockdown implies that there is no imminent danger, and that the intruder is mostly likely in no position to harm students. For example, a stranger may have accidentally entered school and cannot find the exit.

In this situation, the assisant principals will search the school to identify the intruder.

In a hard lockdown, the intruder is armed and intends to harm the school community. In this case, staff members remain in their offices and wait for the police to arrive.

During both situations, an announcement will be made twice: “Attention. We are now in Soft/Hard Lockdown. Take proper action,” and students will be expected to push their desks out of the way and move out of sight. Teachers will check the hallway for any stray students, turn off the lights and lock the door. Everyone remains silent until another announcement is made lifting the lockdown.

Every room has been provided a paper with a green side and a red side. During a soft lockdown, teachers will slide the paper under the door to indicate the state of the classroom.The green side will indicate that all students in the classroom are present and are in good condition. The red side will indicate that a student is missing, wounded, or any other emergency situation. The APs and deans walking the hallways will see which classrooms are in need.

“It’s best to stay away from the doors, windows…Basically out of sight from the intruder,” said Ms. Fee, discussing the drills.

The worst case scenario is either a student getting shot through the window of the door or glass shattering and injuring another. But ever wondered what those criss-crossing lines in the door window are? “The lines in the window basically separates the glass,” Ms. Assante explained, “So that if someone tries to shoot the window, instead of the glass shattering everywhere, it’ll only shoot one hole through.”

Most teachers during the drill gathered the students against the wall and tried to fit in as many as possible.

Some even formed them into a triangular shape. “It makes it harder for the intruder to shoot directly at the students,” said Ms. Liu. The ultimate goal isn’t necessarily to hide, but to make sure that students are out of an assailant’s line of fire.

As students in a slack-free atmosphere, most would expect that THHS students to take a lockdown as seriously as anything. However, most students stated otherwise. “I thought it was really funny,” said Jennie Lynn, sophomore. “No one was taking it seriously. We already knew it was a drill.”

Other students shared similar recollections of their intruder drill experiences. “My teacher made fun of it completely. But at the end of the drill, she took it seriously and pointed out good places to hide,” said Yelena Dzhanova, sophomore.

Many students also doubted the effectiveness of the intruder drill. “We can’t fit all of the students behind the blackboard. The idea of having to hide all of us is impossible,” said Stanley Li, sophomore.

Jennifer Jacob, a sophomore, however, disagreed strongly. “Honestly, what else do you want the teachers to do? It’s the students’ faults for making the stupid choice of hiding under a desk or something. There’s a wall right next to you! Even though teachers should protect us, we also need to use common sense. We’re not defenseless babies.”

It’s important for the students to prepare for potential mayhem, but whose hands are they in? In the recent tragedies we have heard about, were teachers prepared for their heroic acts, or were they merely acting on instinct?

In fact, the principal of THHS is well-prepared to react to such a situation.. Mr. Barbetta revealed that he used to be a principal at a pilot school for drills such as these. “The previous school I was at did really realistic drills. There was a bomb threat where they actually planted a fake device, and another time we had someone pose as an actual intruder.”

But fake lockdowns aren’t all that he’s been through. “In my previous school, I experienced two lockdowns. During one, there was a disgruntled parent that went after a bully that was bothering his son, and he just went into the classroom. In a minute, the police caught him. It wasn’t a pretty scene…and eventually he wound up being arrested.”

When questioned on the precautions needed for the drill, Mr. Barbetta replied, “The lockdown prepares the entire school community and requires total cooperation. I expect students to take it seriously in order to maintain safety.”

Mr. Barbetta adds, “You must be prepared because you never know… a crime can happen at any school or neighborhood, rich or poor. Crime doesn’t care about money. It doesn’t discriminate.”

The heart-breaking shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School should be enough of a sign to indicate that even in a peaceful community like Newtown, such a tragedy can happen. “Everyone thinks, ‘Oh, that’s never going to happen to me’ until it actually does,” said Hilary Lee, sophomore.

Townsend Harris appears to be a safe haven of learning and cooperation, but you never know when an armed intruder may disturb that peace. In the words of Confucius, “Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.”