Following on the frightening lockdown false alarm that occurred at Falls Church’s Meridian High and adjacent Henderson Middle School last week, Falls Church Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan and Falls Church City Police Chief Mary Gavin held a debriefing this week with results that were swiftly communicated to the entire City schools staff. According to Noonan, the debriefing included F.C. police officers, the school-based administration of the secondary (Meridian/Henderson) campus and leadership from the schools’ central office. Noonan reported the following:
“The conversation was focused around three questions: (1) what went well, (2) what were our challenges and (3) what steps will we take to improve?
“Things that went well included that our staff and students did exactly what they trained to do during drills, the Meridian and Henderson administration kept level heads and followed protocols, the new high school’s emergency systems worked as planned, We were able to deploy staff to the Giant parking lot to ensure the safety of students who were not on campus when the lockdown began, and the police response was swift and intense.”
Proving challenging were, he said: “The response was not approached as a campus response, rather it began as a Meridian response and then Henderson was brought in. Our communications systems across both Henderson and Meridian were not in-sync. Police in plain clothes did not don their emergency vests which created confusion. A coordinated command response between the police, schools, and central office was less than optimal and, during the crisis and in an early video communication about the event, we initially believed the badge that set off the alarm was handed to a parent volunteer by a staff member. Upon further review of video evidence, we have concluded that a parent volunteer unknowingly picked up the “alarm” badge from a desktop.”
Steps now being taken to improve, he said, include “to secure all alarm badges and review badge protocols, develop a safety and security communications plan that clearly delineates and differentiates responsibilities and assignments, develop a coordinated command structure, between the schools, central office, and the police for a critical incident response, ensure the police department has access to our internal cameras so that they can seamlessly have ‘eyes’ in our building, Create internal technological structures that coordinates communication between Meridian and Henderson to ensure a campus approach.”
He concluded, “While this incident was isolated to the secondary campus, it is important for the entire community to know how we are reacting to these events as they impact our response to all of our schools. We are also committed to transparency and know how important it is that all of us have access to accurate information so we can dispel rumors (often propagated by social media) quickly while also learning from these events and making the changes necessary to improve our systems, Noonan stressed.
The News-Press commends the swiftness, thoroughness and transparency of this joint action by the schools and local police.