Alert System Kept Parents in the Loop During Shooting Threat

It was the first time the principal at Oregon's Phoenix High School used the Web-based voicemail notification system in an emergency situation -- and it worked flawlessly.

by Sam Wheeler, McClatchy News Service / September 12, 2014 0

When Phoenix High School Principal Jani Hale's voice came through Denise Meer's cellphone Tuesday afternoon alerting her of a shooting threat at her daughter's school, concern washed over her.

But there was also a sense of relief at being notified, she recalled.

Hale's message went out to more than 800 other parents that day, calmly telling them that the school would be locking all of its doors, searching the building and surrounding neighborhoods and not allowing anyone to enter or exit until the potential threat — received by the school in a phone call — was eliminated.

It was the first time Hale had used the school's Web-based voicemail notification system in an emergency situation, she said, and it worked flawlessly.

"It immediately stopped all the phone calls to the district office, because the parents got their information," Hale said. "I think it's so wrong to keep parents out of the loop when it involves the safety of their children."

The phone call warning of a possible shooting came in at the school's front office at about 1:39 p.m., Phoenix police said.

Hale recorded and sent her voicemail notification to parents just moments later.

"Timing is everything. ... I had to get ahead of the (text) messages," she said.

And it worked.

Denise Meer said she texted her daughter Danika, a junior at the school, after receiving the message just to make sure everything was OK.

"As a parent you're just like, 'Oh, my gosh, I want to take care of my kid', but I think if the parents go rushing down there it could make the situation worse, and they might even be putting themselves in danger," she said.

Meer said Hale's message was "heartfelt" and well delivered; serious and to the point, but calm.

"You know that there is a possibility that it is just somebody yanking somebody's chain, but you know there is the possibility there could be an imminent threat," Meer said. "The school takes all threats seriously. ... I felt very safe with where (Danika) was."

Hale said she uses the notification system — developed by Bright Arrow Technologies — about five times annually, as reminders to parents of conferences, open-house nights or incoming mail.

"I don't ever make those phone calls lightly, because I don't want (parents) to hang up right when they get it," she said.

Meer said she thinks the notification system is a great way for parents to quickly get information from schools during emergency situations like Tuesday's, and provides more relief than a potentially misleading post on Facebook or from a media source.

Police are still working to track down the man who placed the threatening phone call, and anyone with information about the identity of the caller is being asked to contact the Phoenix Police Department at 541-535-1113, ext. 0.

©2014 the Mail Tribune (Medford, Ore.)