Published December 24, 2019

By DAN TOMASELLO

LYNNFIELD — The School Department’s evacuation drills went smoothly this past fall, Fire Chief Glenn Davis and Police Chief David Breen told the Board of Selectmen last week.

The drills for all four schools were held in October. Breen said the drills were designed to build upon security initiatives identified by the town’s Security Task Force over the last several years.

“One of the misconceptions in this country is that lockdown is the only component that can be used,” said Breen. “While we decided not to exclude lockdown as a component in our approach, we felt evacuation could save lives.”

Breen noted the School Department implemented the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate) program during the 2016-2017 school year. He said students and school staff have received ALICE training.

“We tailored it down a little bit for students in the elementary schools,” said Breen. “We felt some of the pieces in the program would not be appropriate and would be a little too much for students at that age.”

Breen said the School Department implemented the Go2Blu communications system for school security this year, which replaced the COPSync911 system that the district previously used for several years.

“Superintendent Tremblay also had 160 cameras that are web-based installed,” Breen added.

After officials decided to conduct the evacuation drills, Breen said site preparation took place.

“We had to determine the evacuation routes for the four different schools, busing routes and reunification points,” said Breen. “We met many times to discuss what we were going to do and how we were going to do it.”

Davis agreed.

“When I became chief a year ago, I approached Chief Breen and said we need to collaborate on this and get all of our departments together,” said Davis. “We had several meetings.”

Davis said local officials undertook “end-to-end testing” before the drills occurred.

“Tabletop exercises are great, but you have to actually do it in real life,” said Davis. “That’s what we were able to accomplish.”

During each drill, Davis said local officials used the Go2Blu software in order “alert the students and faculty to evacuate.”

“They not only evacuated, but walked to a reunification point,” said Davis. “We then bused them to another school somewhere in our community.”

Davis acknowledged the town “doesn’t have the advantage of some places where they can evacuate and regroup one building away.”

“Our schools are not in close proximity,” said Davis. “To achieve this was a big task. We mobilized the buses and we had to remove, evacuate and reunify anywhere from 400 to 700 students as well as faculty. We achieved this very well.”

Davis said local officials learned a lot from the drills.

“This is a work in progress and it’s evolving,” said Davis.

Davis said the evacuation drills are “not just for hostile environments such as active shooters.”

“The big thing I learned from the Wakefield fire chief and the Reading fire chief is they have done this for other emergencies in the schools,” said Davis. “We know we can do this if we need to evacuate a school for a gas event, a carbon monoxide event or some other kind of emergency. The safety of the students and staff is paramount.”

Davis said additional school evacuation drills will take place in April.

“We want to change up the scenarios a little bit so it is an ever-evolving plan,” said Davis.

In an interview with the Villager, Superintendent Jane Tremblay thanked the two chiefs as well as DPW Director John Tomasz for helping “keep the students and faculty safe in Lynnfield Public Schools.”

Breen told the selectmen that Tremblay made school security a top priority after she became superintendent in 2014.

“One of the things I have heard from police chiefs is that you can only accomplish as much as a superintendent lets you,” said Breen. “Sometimes compromises must be made whether it be for financial reasons or ideological reasons. And I must say, cooperation from Superintendent Tremblay has been unbelievable right from the start. The first thing she said to me was that the safety and security of the students and the staff was paramount. It saddens me that Superintendent Tremblay is leaving, but I am sure the incoming superintendent will be very much involved.”

Breen thanked Tomasz for supporting the Police, Fire and School Departments during the evacuation drills. He also thanked school bus drivers “for trying to assist in any way they could.”

“We are very pleased with what we have done,” said Breen.

Selectmen offer praise

The selectmen were pleased the evacuation drills went well.

“I appreciate all of the organization and coordination between all of the department heads and the staff,” said Selectmen Chairman Phil Crawford. “This doesn’t happen overnight. I know it’s still evolving, but it gives everybody a lot more comfort.”

Selectman Chris Barrett concurred with Crawford’s viewpoint.

“Where we are right now is beyond impressive,” said Barrett.

Barrett encouraged the two chiefs to let the selectmen know if they need any capital requests that could improve school security.

While Selectman Dick Dalton recalled that Breen, Tremblay and Tomasz have had a close working relationship over the last several years, he was particularly pleased that Davis “became part of the team.”

“That has been a big step forward,” said Dalton. “It’s great to see our two public safety heads working so closely together for the benefit of the community.”