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Tamaqua police revamp school's emergency notification system

Published November 28. 2009 09:00AM

The Tamaqua Police Department has revamped its system for notifying schools in the borough in the event of an emergency situation.

From now on, the Schuylkill 911 Communications Center will notify schools and day care centers in Tamaqua when told to do so by police during a potential crisis.

The move was prompted by a precautionary lockdown requested by Police Chief Dave Mattson for Tamaqua Area High School last Friday morning, Nov. 20, as police investigated an incident in the vicinity of the school.

During the lockdown, which lasted approximately an hour as the incident was cleared, several other school district facilities in the borough also took necessary precautions.

However, during the lockdown period, other, nondistrict schools in the borough, including St. Jerome Regional School and Lehigh Carbon Community College's Morgan Center, which was holding a mentor lunch program for out of town Schuylkill County students at the time, were not notified of the lockdown. Day care centers in Tamaqua were also not notified.

The exclusion of those school facilities led to the questions on the borough's school crisis notification system.

The incident involved a report of a man with a hunting rifle who entered a downtown minimart and mentioned he was headed to the high school, Mattson explained.

Because the perceived threat was targeted for the high school, Mattson said he called principal RuthAnn Gardiner to notify her of the situation.

Mattson said he was only concerned with locking down the high school, and the district decided to take precautionary measures at its other buildings in the borough.

As it turned out, the incident was cleared when the man with the rifle was stopped by police after he was allegedly heading for the woods behind the school. No arrest was made or charges filed.

However, Mattson has admitted he made a mistake in not notifying the other schools and day cares of the situation.

"It was my decision and my error," said Mattson. "The threat was specific to the high school, and I chose not to call the other schools. As chief, I take that responsibility. It is not the school district's responsibility to notify anyone other than its own schools."

During an emergency, however, police might not have the opportunity to call every school and day care in addition to their other duties. If the school district only calls its own facilities, this leaves a gap in the police's crisis notification system.

In order to rectify that, Mattson said he has supplied the Schuylkill Communications Center with a list of all the school and day care center phone numbers in the borough's jurisdiction.

"The Comm Center is now set up to make the calls. Now, when an officer calls for a lockdown, the Comm Center will call all the schools and day cares," stated Mattson. "From this point on, all the schools and day cares will be notified in a crisis situation."

If this gap in the notification system has been sealed, then last week's lockdown has its silver lining.

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