No Cause for Alarm

January 25, 2009

So what would you do? Your kid’s at a Jewish school. They, quite rightly, have regular emergency drill practices, often without prior notification, including lock-downs to simulate responding to an attempt to gain unauthorised entry to the building. Only this time they sent text messages the parents saying “we have an emergency situation at the school. Please don’t attempt to get to the school” (or words to that effect). The thing is, if such a thing happened for real, should they send such a message to parents?

Well in this practice they did. Naturally, many Jewish parents ignored the request to stay away and the streets of north west London almost went into gridlock. So much for “please don’t attempt to get to the school” (or words to that effect).

What did they think was going to happen? A text back from parents saying “Sure, no problem. Good luck with it. c u l8r’?

Or maybe, “That’s a relief. I’m in the middle of the meeting so I wouldn’t have been able to contribute to the gridlock anyway. Tell the hostage takers to hang on to my kid until about 2 please – I doubt I’ll be able to get away from the office until 1.30 at the earliest.”

Of course this is serious stuff. And my understanding is that the text was a mistake in the first place. It should never have been sent, but isn’t it good that it was? The school now knows what would happen if, in a real emergency, they sent out texts saying “hey folks, we’ve got a real emergency going on down here, but you just carry on as normal and we’ll let you know how it all pans out. Whatever you do, don’t come down here because you’ll cause a right old rumpus with the parking” (or words to that effect).

What they found out is that Jewish parents (and, no doubt, non-Jewish ones in a similar situation) would ignore such an email and get over to the school pretty sharpish. Now there’s a surprise.

So maybe the plan was to let people know that it was a drill, and therefore there was no need to panic, but if so they might, just might, have thought to put “Oh by the way folks, it’s just a drill this time no need to make like the car chase in The French Connection” (or words to that effect).

But why the text at all if it’s a drill? To test the effectiveness of the message sent? If this was the actual text message they would send in a real emergency, they now know what the response would be to the “don’t come down here” bit, as if they really needed to test that. And if it was all a silly mistake and someone sent the message out but didn’t think through what they were composing then the school at least needs to do a little more refining of the plan including setting out clearly what messages say and when they are sent.