Franklin Regional High School stabbing: Was pulling the fire alarm the best practice?

Posted by on April 15, 2014

One student stabbed and/or injured twenty-two students and staff on April 9th in the hallways of a Pennsylvania high school.  Once again, a tragedy played out in the hallways of our schools.

What is troubling to me is the continued media reports of what a “good” thing it was for an injured student to pull the fire alarm.  I am sorry, but with no disrespect to this well-intended student, this was not the best thing to do in this situation.  It does point out the need for training so this type of action does not occur again.

My concerns are several:

  • When the fire alarm is pulled at any school, students and staff respond as they have been trained to do and that is evacuate according to nearest safe exit.  This is what happened at Franklin Regional High School. Students and staff then walked into “chaos.”  This is the word USA Today used in their story on April 10.  This is an example of why Department of Homeland Security’s “Run, Hide, Fight” theory is inappropriate in the preK-12 environment.
  • When the fire alarm is pulled at any school, the local fire department is notified.  Ask your local fire department what resources they send to a school fire.  You will find a school alarm requires their highest level of first response.  Certainly the 911 call center in most communities can then notify the fire department of the situation at the school if it is known, but most fire department procedures require a major response until such time as the situation is known for sure. This can not only be dangerous for responding fire fighters but would also add significantly to an already chaotic scene.  Firefighters are certainly willing to help law enforcement with any emergency, but it would be beneficial for the fire department to know what type of emergency it is responding to and why.

What Should Schools Do?

  • Schools should diversify their drills. (How many times have you read that in this blog?) Schools should practice lockdowns at arrival, dismissal and during lunch.
  • We recommend before jumping into these examples of diversified drills that table top exercises be conducted to familiarize staff with their role in protecting students and to work out issues that will naturally arise when this type of drill is conducted.
  • Schools cannot only practice when it is convenient to the adults. Emergency situations do not only occur when it is convenient to those impacted by the emergency.

Unfortunately, we cannot always rely on the information provided by the media talking heads who repeat what sounds good at the moment without doing a deeper analysis of the issues and implications of what they are supporting.  Sometimes the information they receive is incorrect and what sounds good may not actually be good as a best practice moving forward.

Chuck Hibbert

Consultant to National School Safety and Security Services

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2 thoughts on “Franklin Regional High School stabbing: Was pulling the fire alarm the best practice?

  1. I agree completely that pulling a fire alarm is not a good idea. Fire response is for fires and you will get the wrong type of response when time matters most during an incident. You could be sending firefighters into a fight with armed attackers, not to mention the chaos of a fire evacuation as police need to be responding and finding the attacker, which will be next to impossible with hundreds of people moving around. Canadian General Rick Hillier wrote “Beware of the good idea Fairy”. This refers to people coming up with all kinds of “good” ideas that mess up excellent planning. Most of these good ideas are not well thought out and have not been tested or vetted by experts. We are in danger of too many ideas interfering with the basic fact that schools and law enforcement must plan together and work together when planning for attackers.

  2. Allison Weigel says:

    I’m so glad that someone as credible as yourself has pointed this out. I have been saying the same thing, even recommending to my own school that this was a good example as to why we should grant teachers the autonomy to call a lockdown drill from their classrooms. We often practice our drills as if the “chaos” is happening on the other side of the building. But what if someone witnessed it first hand? Actually, there is no “what if”. The truth is that someone is going to be on the front line and the likelihood of a lockdown being called from the safety of the main office is unrealistic. Teachers on the front line didn’t have the time to call the office and explain to the secretary why she should tell the principal to call a lockdown, and instead the fire alarm was pulled putting hundreds of people in harm’s way.

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