by Andrew Martin
MORRISTOWN – Students and staff at Peoples Academy Middle Level and High School recently conducted something of a dry run for their school’s emergency preparedness. On Tuesday, January 29, a slight malfunction occurred with the sprinkler system in the original Peoples Academy building that resulted in the students being sent home early after several hours of waiting.
According to Lamoille South Supervisory Union Superintendent Tracy Wrend the problem with the sprinkler system occurred when a compressor in the system malfunctioned, causing the water pressure to drop and the alarm to sound notifying the Morrisville Fire Department. The sprinkler system never actually turned on, but authorities from the fire department informed school officials that the portion of the high school where the malfunction occurred should not be occupied until the problem was fixed.
As a result of this issue the students in the high school were sent to the gym and cafeteria, where they continued to do schoolwork. A meal was also provided, and while a temporary fix was installed by the early afternoon, the school’s administration decided to send both middle and high schoolers home at 12:30 p.m. A permanent solution to the problem was found and implemented by the time school began the following day. While there was never an actual emergency, Wrend felt that the events were a good indicator of where Peoples Academy stands in terms of being prepared for actual emergencies.
“It was not a crisis situation, but it was a good test of our emergency procedures,” stated Wrend on the events of the day, “Our faculty and staff, students, parents, and the community were all phenomenal in their responses and actions.”
Wrend went on to explain that when it was apparent that there was a problem the first objective in any situation is to ensure that all the students are safe.
“In the early stages of any crisis we need to focus on keeping the kids safe and responding to the crisis,” explained Wrend, “We aren’t always able to communicate with parents and the community to send out proper information right away but only after we have accomplished that first goal.”
Wrend continued to explain that today’s social media often creates rumors that parents and community members feel they need to respond to. However, she stressed that everyone should wait to hear from the official modes of communication used by the school system to get proper information and instructions.
“It is important that parents and community members wait for the proper instructions on things like when and where they should come to pick up their children during any emergencies,” stated Wrend. She went on to explain that if parents receive false information during an emergency using the non-official means of communication and arrive at the school they could potentially be distracting emergency personnel or even putting themselves in unnecessary danger.
Wrend further explained that during the malfunction of the sprinkler system several successful attempts to communicate with parents and the community were made after the situation was under control. According to Wrend information about the ongoing events was placed on the school website, an announcement was made on WLVB, and the new automated phone messaging system was used. This new system sends out a message to every parent with a listed number, either home or cell, giving them up-to-date information and instructions.
While she wanted to stress the need for the community to wait for instructions, Wrend reiterated that during the sprinkler malfunction, parents did exactly that and all parties involved with the process and events performed their tasks in an exemplary fashion.
‘Everyone was outstanding,” said Wrend, “It speaks to our practice, our relationships with the community, and the improvements we have recently made to our security system.”