False alarm a teachable moment in Sycamore

Sycamore Police Deputy Chief Jim Winters, center, walks through a sea of Sycamore students outside of Sycamore High School during a lockdown as police investigate on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 at Sycamore High School in Sycamore. Early reports are that the lockdown was caused by a security malfunction.

SYCAMORE – Reiley Fitzhenry said school bells have made her jumpy ever since the BluePoint emergency system went off during her 1 p.m. study hall last Thursday.

The Sycamore High School junior said she heard three bells before the voiceover for the BluePoint emergency system came on, and she began shaking and had trouble breathing when she realized what might be happening.

“I had three panic attacks within 45 minutes,” she said.

Fitzhenry said she was nervous that her classmates were talking too loud and might tip off an intruder. That fear caused her to ignore six phone calls from her concerned mother, who pulled into the parking lot to drop off her sister just as the BluePoint lights turned on.

A staff member used Fitzhenry’s belt to tie the door shut, and she said she eventually felt it was safe to send her mother a text letting her know why she could not talk on the phone.

Police and administrators said a malfunction in the BluePoint system caused the alarm to go off, and that while the response of staff members might have seemed chaotic and disorganized, ALICE procedures were properly followed.

ALICE is a national program that suggests different strategies for when a school is under threat from an armed attacker. The acronym stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.

District 427 Superintendent Kathy Countryman said high school staff were trained in ALICE procedures at the end of March, and when the alarm went off, the strategies were used.

“Staff did exactly what they were trained to do,” Countryman said. “We are happy about that, even though we hope we never have to encounter that kind of event.”

Following ALICE, teachers and staff members decide which strategy is safest and most effective in the situation. Some students remained on lockdown in their classrooms, while others were told to run or escape from windows.

Countryman said although staff response was appropriate, the district will be looking for ways to improve during emergency situations.

She said two major concerns she has heard from parents are the timeline of communication and keeping track of students’ locations, as some kept running into town and did not return to school that day.

Sycamore Deputy Police Chief Jim Winters said officers worked with the manager of the school grounds to identify the specific unit in the BluePoint alarm system that malfunctioned.

He said there was no evidence to indicate a person had purposely triggered the alarm.

“Within minutes we were fairly certain there was not a real threat,” Winters said. “Of course, we used an abundance of caution because the situation…

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