High School Put on Brief Safety Lockdown This Morning

Monday, October 10, 2016, 9:40 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

East Lansing High School went into a “shelter in place lockdown” for about fifteen minutes this morning (10/10/16). According to an emailed announcement from Principal Coby Fletcher, the high school received notification via the confidential messaging system OK2Say “that a student had made what could be considered a threat against the high school via an Instagram message.”

ELPD Lieutenant Scott Wriggelsworth tells ELi that "a currently suspended student placed a photo on Instagram. The photo showed a subject shooting people and then had something along the lines of 'my mood today' as a caption."

The High School had been scheduled to do a lockdown drill at 9 a.m. this morning, but according to Assistant Principal Nick Hamilton, with whom I spoke this morning, the perceived credible threat occurred in advance of the scheduled drill.

According to the letter from Fletcher, the school was put in lockdown mode while East Lansing Police “assessed the threat and attempted to locate the student, who was not present on campus.” The lockdown order “was lifted when the school received notification from ELPD that the student who made the alleged threat was located and the safety of our students was assured.”

Wriggelsworth tells ELi, "ELPD located the student who was home with his father. The student was fine, was spoken to about such posts online, and the shelter in place was lifted."

Hamilton tells me that doing the scheduled drill this morning after the non-drill lockdown would have taken too much time out of classes, so the drill will be rescheduled for another day. The school district holds regular security drills to prepare teachers, staff, and students for potential security threats.

In November 2014, the school district experienced two “shelter in place” orders in one week, and as a consequence, for ELi’s readers I spoke to ELPD’s Lieutenant Steve Gonzalez, then spokesperson for the Department, about lockdowns and “shelter in place” orders. We reproduce here what we learned from that conversation.

What does it mean when ELPD or MSU Police recommends people “secure in place”?

Gonzalez explained that this phrase, which started to come into widespread use relatively recently, means that wherever people are, at home or at work, “we recommend that they stay inside, with the doors and windows locked, and don’t come back outside until you are told that everything is safe.” Don’t go outside unless you absolutely have to.

If you are outside when the order comes, “go to the nearest building that you consider safe and go inside, keep secure, and stay locked in.”

Gonzalez notes that the term means different things in different locales—FEMA’s website, for example, suggests “secure in place” can involve shutting down ventilation systems, as during a biological or chemical threat—but what ELPD and MSU Police mean when they say “secure in place” is go inside and lock yourself in, staying away from windows and doors.

What is a lockdown?

Gonzalez explains that this is a term usually used in conjunction with schools. “Lockdowns” require more actions than a “secure in place” order does.

An “external lockdown” refers to a perceived threat outside the building. This kind of order happens, for example, when there is a shooter on the loose. When there is an external lockdown at the schools, usually that means instruction stops and the children, teachers, and staff go into safe rooms or interior rooms with minimal windows. The doors are locked, and they remain locked-down until an “all clear” order is given. Police will be on site.

An “internal lockdown” means there is a perceived threat inside the building. In this case, every room is immediately locked and typically lights are shut off to make it harder to see vulnerable people. Teachers, staff, and children move to interior closets, or if none is available, they retreat to a blind corner (not visible from a window) and remain quiet. Obviously, police come as soon as an internal lockdown is triggered.

Why were all the schools put on external lockdown last May [2014]?

Last May, Richard Taylor shot and killed a pharmacist at the Rite-Aid near Frandor and then retreated to his East Lansing home where he shot and killed a neighbor. The Police knew he was barricaded in his home, so I asked Lieutenant Gonzalez why the schools all went into external lockdown.

He explained, “There was a specific threat, we knew where it was, and we knew it was hostile.” Gonzalez explained that even though the police knew where Taylor was, there was some chance he might escape, and they wanted to be sure if that happened he could not enter a school building. Hence there was a more serious situation than what triggers a “secure in place,” serious enough to result in an external lockdown at the schools.

The odds of Taylor escaping were low; the police had surrounded Taylor’s residence with both an “interior perimeter” of SWAT-style officers and an “exterior perimeter” of additional officers. (The exterior perimeter also keeps people from entering the area.) But extra caution seemed in order.

Why use jargon like “secure in place”?

Lieutenant Gonzalez agreed with me when I noted that “secure in place” isn’t plain English and that the phrase sometimes confuses people. But, he noted, with emergency texting systems, the police are limited in the number of words they can use, so they try to use abbreviated phrases like “secure in place.” For this reason, it’s important to educate everyone about what the phrase means.

How can people be sure to know of “secure in place” orders asap?

East Lansing residents can sign up on Nixle to receive emergency alerts. Gonzalez explains that ELPD uses Nixle to send out alerts “if there’s a known or potential threat.” Nixle is also used for emergency road closures and in a major outage can be used for information distribution. You can set Nixle so that it sends you updates on email, by text to your phone, or both.

“Real plainly,” says Gonzalez, “Nixle is the quickest and easiest way [for residents] to get immediate information from the police or fire department or the 911 center. . . It allows us to get messages out through text messages and emails when immediate action needs to happen. It’s a lot quicker than the media or even the radio.”

When you are logged into Nixle, you can easily see updates on emergencies from both the ELPD and Ingham County 911 dispatch. This can be important especially after normal work hours. ELPD Captain Jeff Murphy explains, "after business hours some of our Nixle messages could come through [the County 911] dispatch if our supervisors are engaged in an incident and can’t get back to the office to make a notification."

You can sign up for Nixle at: https://local.nixle.com/register/

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