Bangor schools are trying to make it as clear as possible what students should do in different types of emergencies in an effort to prevent confusion and miscommunication that dominated the school department’s response to a social media threat in 2019.
The Bangor School Department has adopted a national organization’s Standard Response Protocol that uses a standard terminology to define different situations and describe how students should react in each one.
The protocol’s adoption is part of a larger set of changes to the school department’s 1,400-page Comprehensive Emergency Plan that also includes plans for school department staff to wear new alert badges that allow them to contact emergency responders and police instantly in the case of a school shooting or lower-level emergency.
The Standard Response Protocol, developed by the national I Love U Guys Foundation, includes a set of terms — hold, secure, lockdown, evacuate and shelter in place — with specific instructions accompanying each. The school department has sent information about the terms to families this fall.
The new language comes after school department instructions using terms such as “lockdown” and “soft lockdown” proved confusing for students and families during a March 2019 emergency stemming from social media threats directed at Bangor High School and the James F. Doughty School.
Bangor schools went into a two-hour lockdown that day, but a number of parents said they didn’t know what could and couldn’t happen in a lockdown.
In that case, some parents said the school department issued scant and delayed information. Some said they heard about the lockdown on social media while others received texts from their children who were at school. The lockdown also happened early in the day, so some parents were about to bring their children to school but were left uncertain about what to do.
After the lockdowns were lifted, the Bangor School Department pledged to improve its communication during future emergencies.
Under the Standard Response Protocol, students would enter “hold” protocol — meaning students stay in their classrooms, to keep hallways clear — if there were a medical emergency and first responders needed to reach someone quickly.
“Secure” protocol is used when there’s an external concern or danger to students. In such a case, the exterior doors to the school will be locked and no one will be allowed in or out, but classes and other scheduled activities will continue uninterrupted.
Students in a “lockdown” situation, however, would hide in locked classrooms with the lights off and stay out of sight. This would be used in the case of an immediate threat, such as an active shooter.
In addition to guidance on how to respond to threats, the school department’s updated emergency plan includes information on how schools should respond to a student taking their own life, support students’ mental health after the tragedy and prevent such cases in the first place.
The plan also outlines how guardians should expect to be notified of an emergency and how they should respond.
Other existing guidance, such as how students will be safely reunited with their guardians following an emergency and when students will complete drills to prepare for crises, remains largely unchanged.
The school committee reviews the safety plan annually and updates it as necessary, Bangor School Department spokesperson Ray Phinney said. Only 35 pages are made public, however, for security purposes.