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Bomb Scare Forces Lockdown at GCHS

It was no ordinary school day for students at Garden City High School last week. According to Garden City Police reports, police officers responded to the high school for a report of a bomb threat on Tuesday, March 1 at approximately 9 a.m. School and police personnel searched the building and deemed it safe at approximately 11 a.m., according to police.

School Board President Colleen Foley reacted to the bomb threat at last Wednesday’s board meeting. “I would like to thank the police department and the first responders, as well as the efficient and safe handlings of the staff at the high school. As a result of their actions, everyone ended up safe at the end of the day,” Foley said.

Foley recounted the day’s events telling the audience that she received a phone call from the Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen, who informed her of a bomb threat situation at the high school. She reiterated that she and board members were in contact with Dr. Feirsen every 15 or 20 minutes as he was at the high school. She also spoke to the commissioner of Garden City Police every half hour through the course of that day.

Foley also spent time being debriefed by Garden City Police Officers for the next several days. “It is an ongoing police investigation, so some information is not public, nor will be discussed publicly,” she said. “I was relieved to see what some of the procedures were and how we handled them and how we handled them efficiently,” she added.

According to Foley, during a bomb threat, school districts are governed and covered by the state safety guidelines developed by the State Education Department, State Police, State Office of Homeland Security and the State Emergency Management Office.

It was stated that parents expressed concerns that the school wasn’t evacuated but instead went into what is called “lockdown” mode, which allows authorities and school administration to access and investigate the threat. “We recognize it’s the worst phone call you can get. It provokes anxiety, fear, tension, but at the end of the day following guidelines, procedures and clear thinking is what is going to keep people safe,” Foley said.

She further explained the definition of “lockdown,” which is an action that an administrator can initiate based on an actual or imminent threat or violent event. “It is how we ensure…to minimize injury and death, facilitate effectiveness and to move as many people as possible to a safe place and that’s a purpose of a lockdown. And I am glad to say that was actually achieved yesterday,” she said.

One of the other guidelines the district uses in a bomb threat situation is called “joint decision making” and “unified command.” In a school system, unlike private industry, school officials are responsible for the decision-making that goes on in school. “In a situation as grave as this, obviously, input from fire or police are necessary for administrators to make appropriate decisions,” Foley said, adding.

“That’s called unified decision-making and unified command. So even though a superintendent of schools may be the one who actually says, ‘we’re going to evacuate or not evacuate,’ that decision is never made without unified command. So, for example, if we decided not to evacuate and the police felt there was imminent threat of danger, obviously, the decision to evacuate would be made. So those are important guidelines for the community to understand.”

Once the incident was downgraded, the school district staff and board decided to use the opportunity as a practice situation and drill, Foley explained. The superintendent of schools is planning to conduct a post-incident analysis of the situation to improve how the district can be more effective, efficient and faster in keeping students safe during emergency situations.