Students Are Put to the Test During Real Emergencies

Special to the Pitch

WJ students are accustomed to the familiar voice of Principal Dr. Garran over the PA system, announcing the start of a Code Blue or Code Red drill. And recently, this familiar voice had to announce something a little more serious – a Code Blue/Shelter-in-Place – and it was not a drill. As early as the second week of school, WJ’s ability to respond to dangerous situations was tested; students were forced to translate what they had learned into practice when shots were fired at a nearby apartment complex.

This was not an anomaly; at the very end of the first semester last year, on Jan. 15, there was an incident involving an armed robbery suspect hiding on school grounds. At the time, the SGA was hosting a dance contest in the auditorium, and a JV boys basketball game was about to start in the gym. Students, and parents at the basketball game, were asked to remain calm and follow protocol until police found the suspect, who had been hiding under a portable.

WJ has yet to have a circumstance where students are put in harm’s way, and MCPS Director of Security Robert Hellmuth believes that the key to retaining this safety is practice.

“The reason for any drill is so that staff and students can practice what is expected of them and be prepared to act if an actual emergency occurs,” said Hellmuth.

While students run through drills to prepare them for emergencies during class, emergencies can occur at any time. Administration stresses that students should be prepared for any situation, including ones that happens after school, during lunch, or at any other time.

According to Garran, the important thing is that students respond to every situation by following protocol as closely as possible, and by listening to the instructions administered.

“I’d like to stress the importance of student cooperation…we’ve never had an issue with students during fire drills or Code Red and Blue drills,” said Garran.

WJ’s policy of open lunch makes it especially hard to keep track of all students. If an event occurs when students are not in the building, it is necessary to secure the building and work with the police department to ensure the safety of students not on the WJ premises.

“The main concern would be the students streaming in from [G-square] and into a location that isn’t secure,” said Garran.

Students in G-square should cooperate with the police department, and find a safe, indoor location. Students should not attempt to return to the school premises until the situation is fully secure.

A couple of years ago, WJ actually ran a drill during lunch. Students were ushered into classrooms and the building was closed off.

“We did better than I actually thought we would,” said Garran.