Emergency ‘External Notification’ Connected at District Schools

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External notification — or the so-called “panic button” — has been activated in all South Orange-Maplewood schools, according to the school district and South Orange village officials.

External notification was activated before the end of June.

In addition, the new full and permanent automatic notification system — of which the external notification is a part — is being installed and re-tested over the summer in cooperation with the South Orange and Maplewood police departments, reported South Orange-Maplewood School District Director of Strategic Communications Suzanne Turner.

Turner said that the district had “accelerated the implementation of the external component of the automatic notification system, which originally had a completion date of September 2014.”

The acceleration comes after complaints about response to an accidental activation of a code red alert at Marshall School on June 6 which brought angry teachers and some parents to the June Board of Education meeting. Teachers complained that the school had not been notified that the external notification button was not yet activated. Teachers also were critical of South Orange police response to the code red alert.

(South Orange Police Chief Jim Chelel previously told Village Green that he had met with “all parties involved” at Marshall following the Board of Ed meeting to address concerns. Chelel said that there were “some inaccuracies” in a letter presented at the Board of Education meeting by Marshall teachers and those were addressed at a June 18 meeting at Marshall — a meeting he labeled as “productive.”)

More recently, South Orange Village Trustee Deborah Davis Ford brought up the Marshall code red incident at the South Orange Board of Trustees meeting on July 14.

Public Safety Committee Chair Sheena Collum assured Davis Ford that “it has been addressed.”

Collum added, “Shortly after, the Village President had sent an alert to the Board of Trustees. The Police Department has been involved since the very beginning working with the school district, working with the administration, working with our administration and our Village President, on compiling the after-action report looking at the next steps.”

South Orange Trustees Sheena Collum and Deborah Davis Ford discuss school safety measures at the July 14 Board of Trustees meeting.

South Orange Trustees Sheena Collum and Deborah Davis Ford discuss school safety measures at the July 14 Board of Trustees meeting.

Collum said that all concerned parties had met again in early July to “make sure that the issues were addressed” as well as the “perceived issues” — she said that there was “some misunderstanding between what does happen and what is actually happening.”

Davis Ford said she did not want a discussion of procedural details that would compromise safety but that she wanted to know that “a comprehensive emergency plan has been put into place that covers all students in our district.”

“I can assure you that the Board has fully gone and investigated it,” said South Orange Village Administrator Barry Lewis.

Lewis added, “I think I’m at liberty to say that all of the alarms and buttons are directly connected to the police department in both South Orange and Maplewood.”

(See the Board of Trustees conversation here. Davis Ford begins pertinent comments at about 2:48:25.)

An email from Turner echoed and amplified Collum’s and Lewis’s statements.

“SOMSD has a comprehensive emergency management plan in place which is regularly reviewed and updated. This summer, we are thoroughly reviewing the emergency procedures again, including conducting a collaborative review with the police departments of both South Orange and Maplewood,” wrote Turner. “The police departments also regularly participate in our emergency drills throughout the school year to coordinate procedures and responses.”

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