Sounding the alarm

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It’s no wonder that Norwood School teachers and parents were angered when they learned the school’s fire alarm system had been inoperative for the best part of a month.

It’s not that the condition had gone undetected. In fact, as soon as it was detected and in compliance with protocol, the fire marshal was notified and the school’s plan for a self-directed fire watch conducted by the school janitor was implemented. During the outage, the school conducted a fire drill using the intercom in place of an alarm.

But teachers weren’t informed the alarm didn’t work. How were they to know an alarm wouldn’t sound if there had been a fire and what were they expected to do should they detect or suspect a fire?

Simultaneously, the Holliman School alarm system – both systems are about 35 years old – gave signs of collapsing. A portion of the system died, silencing the alarms in about a third of the school. Teachers and parents were informed of the situation and, as in Norwood, a fire watch was implemented.

The failures of the two alarms is indicative of an aging school system that has been patched together for years and is now reaching the point where repairs are no longer practical assuming, of course, that parts are even available. The School Department assures the two systems will be operational by April 6 and that over the summer replaced by the latest system.

Many are asking questions in the wake of the episode. What were teachers and students to do since they didn’t know the Norwood system was inoperative? How any other schools have similarly aged systems that could fail? Why weren’t the systems among the priorities for replacement, or repair when the schools sought to release of bond funds to repair schools? Was there a plan to notify teachers and parents and if there wasn’t, why not?

We anticipate some of those questions will be asked and hopefully answered as the events of the last week are debated.

Meanwhile, Norwood parent and PTA member Stephanie Shelton took the right course of action when she verified rumors the system wasn’t working and notified parents and teachers. It’s unfortunate that some administrators didn’t sense the same urgency and do that at the start.

The lesson is clear: There should be no compromise when it comes to the safety of our children.

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