Montgomery County school officials defend lockdown procedures

WASHINGTON — Lockdown. Shelter in place. Directed evacuation.

All those terms crop up on school websites on emergency preparedness. Twice in the past week, parents in Montgomery County have had to refresh their knowledge of emergency procedures when two schools, Northwest High School and Northwood High School, were targeted by people calling in threats.

“As a parent, I certainly understand the inclination, if there’s something going on at a school, that you want to get there to make sure that your kids are safe,” says Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger. But parents should resist that urge, he says.

“Typically, if a school is on lockdown, everything’s fine inside,” he says, adding that people heading to the school may create confusion for police securing the outside of a school or investigating a threat in the neighborhood.

Parents sometimes complain that when schools are placed on lockdown or evacuated, they get too little information, too late. Brian Edwards, chief communications officer with Montgomery County Public Schools, understands parents’ frustration, but says, “Our procedures are very clear in schools. The first thing we’ll do is take care of student safety.”

After that, he says, once emergency officials have been contacted and the school or schools are secured, the school system will contact parents using ConnectEd and phone calls.

The fact that information can be spread immediately thanks to Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging puts more importance on getting accurate, up-to-date information out to parents. Every effort is put into making sure that information is communicated, Edwards says, but “We have to make sure our kids are safe first.”

Definitions of terms, including distinctions such as the difference between “lockdown” and “shelter in place,” are outlined on the school system’s website. Edwards says parents with questions should talk to their children’s principals and become familiar with the procedures themselves.

If children need to be picked up from school due to some kind of emergency, Chief Manger says parents will be contacted, but even then, procedure has to be followed. “Reunification” procedures include accounting for each student, then making sure that the person picking them up has been authorized to do so.

Check here for information on Montgomery County’s emergency plan, and here for more information on reunification procedures.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.

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