Lockdowns and parental concerns

By all accounts, employees at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Nashua did everything right Tuesday when police blocked off a small area nearby and advised the club to "lock down" following the report of shots fired in the vicinity. It may not have been a perfect process, but since the incident ended peacefully and with no one getting hurt, we hope it gives club officials a chance to re-evaluate their ability to notify parents in similar circumstances.

Boys and Girls Club CEO Norm Bouthilette explained the day after the incident that the club was in "lockdown" for about 20 minutes Tuesday after Nashua police blocked off streets near Stevens Avenue and called in the Manchester police tactical team. That meant that kids there were moved to interior rooms and doors were locked. But an officer then told employees they could "shelter in place," a less-
restrictive step in the "Seven Responses" that emergency coordinators use during crisis situations. Since kids at the club were inside due to the Tuesday weather anyway, life went on largely as usual.

That was less true for parents like Denis Brunelle, whose son and daughter were at the club, according to his posts on the ever-
popular Nashua Civic Sounding Board Facebook group. He, unfortunately, heard about the police activity and possible shots being fired via a chain of messages from family members, including his wife, who was out of the state.

Part of the problem is a common misconception of what the terms lockdown and shelter in place actually mean. According to the city’s Emergency Management Coordinator Justin Kates, lockdown is an often misused catchall.

"Shelter-in-place is more for haz-mat emergencies, and involves shutting down a building’s HVAC system, closing windows and doors when appropriate," Kates explained while "secure campus is used for a threat that’s outside the building, as was the case on Tuesday."

Lockdown means a threat is imminent, such as an active shooter being inside an occupied building.

"I think that’s what happened … (people) heard "lockdown," not "secure campus," and were understandably worried, even though the incident in this case was almost a half-mile away."

That’s probably true, and another reason Brunelle’s point should be well-taken.

As Bouthilette pointed out, staff members have more than enough to do during such emergencies without having to dial hundreds of parents to inform them, one-on-one, about what’s happening. They could use an automated system, but those are costly. But he also said keeping parents informed is important and has been discussed as part of site evaluations conducted by the city’s Office of Emergency Management, most recently at a 2014 session.

We hope that continues, because while while club officials did everything their procedures asked of them, Tuesday’s events highlighted the need to keep talking about ways to get and keep parents in the loop in a more timely fashion.

That’s never been more true than it is today – living as we do at a time when the unthinkable becomes reality with shocking regularity.