|Reid Middle School Evacuated After Hoax Bomb Threat|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
04:15PM / Thursday, February 02, 2017
|The students were evacuated for about two hours Thursday for the hoax bomb threat.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A secretary at Reid Middle School picked up the phone about 11:25 on Thursday morning to hear a message that a bomb was in the school and would explode at a certain time.
Reid was one of five schools across the state and two more schools in New Hampshire that received the same call on Thursday. Ultimately, it was determined that it was a hoax.
"We received intelligence from the state police after we reached out for resources that this was one of multiple, five in Massachusetts and two in New Hampshire, and based on the timing and the multiple reports, and that no devices detonated, it is being treated as a hoax," Police Chief Michael Wynn said.
But between 11:25 and 1:30, the school district implemented a safety protocol to evacuate the children to a safe location. Emergency responders set up a command center to investigate and manage the situation. In a nearby conference room, school administrators joined police and fire in assessing the situation. At about 1:30, the students were brought back to school.
"For us, the real story today is that the entire staff knew what to do. The training worked," Superintendent Jason McCandless said.
This isn't the first time there has been a hoax bomb threat. Multiple schools in Berkshire County received such calls nearly a year ago. Each school has an emergency plan and McCandless said those plans were executed perfectly at Reid on Thursday.
"This generation of kids practice lockdowns. They practice staying in place. They practice staying absolutely silent and hiding as best they can. They practice getting out of buildings any way they can. And they do practice these evacuations," McCandless said.
So what does that all entail? It starts with any threatening call, which prompts an immediate report to 911. School administrators, the principal in most cases, determines the next step. On Thursday, that was left to Principal Linda Whitacre, who ordered the evacuation.
"The principal absolutely made the right call," McCandless said. "It tends to be with school folks, and I deal with this when I am out driving around trying to make a call on snow days or delay days, we always err on the side of making sure people's children are safe."
Each school in the city has relocation sites identified, mostly private institutions such as community clubs or social halls. For Reid there are three, and though most people know where those are the department doesn't like to broadcast that information for safety sake.
"The parents know the sites because the kids practice it. We tend not to publicize in general where they are," McCandless said.
The students grab red backpacks prefilled with emergency supplies that are stored in the classroom and walk in an orderly fashion to the evacuation site. The evacuations aren't just when there is a bomb threat but also other situations such as a heating failure.
"We do ask people to take a quick scan of the building to make sure nothing looks significantly askew," McCandless said.
The city has its own bus fleet so buses can be deployed to transport children as needed, particularly if the children are mobility impaired. Otherwise, closer sites are identified to handle a small number of children who may not be able to make the walk to the other sites.
"We do have sites for each of the schools where walking is perhaps an issue, where mobility is perhaps and issue. So we have alternative sites so maybe a certain percentage of kids go here, a certain percentage of kids go there, and then a tiny percent of the kids go to another site that is really close by," McCandless said.
At about 12:30, McCandless sent out an emergency robocall to parents. The district has the option of sending those calls out to every number families have listed, and that's the one McCandless opted to use on Thursday.
"Our desire is to give as much information as humanly possible because parents trust their children to us. Sometimes for the sake of investigation and prosecution that can happen after, that is not something that we can do," McCandless said.
When parents get those calls, McCandless said a flurry of responses come into his office and parents will drive to the location to pick up their children. But the superintendent said that makes things difficult when trying to keep track of all of the students, so he encourages parents not to try to pick their children up.
"There are great pains going into keeping track. They take attendance before we leave the grounds. There is attendance once you arrive at the relocation site. There is attendance at the relocation site to go back. And there is attendance once you arrive back at the school," McCandless said.
At 1:30, the students began heading back to the school because the threat had been deemed false. Reid parents received another call with more details, this time explaining that it was a bomb threat. Another call went out later in the day to the whole district telling parents about the circumstances.
Thursday's bomb threat wasn't credible. But, should something more severe happen, the schools have plans in place, plans the students have practiced.