Home of the novels by  Mark Williams


Mark Williams, Special Agent Ret.
April 13, 2017 

Growing up, evacuations use to be called ‘fire drills’ because there really was nothing greater than the fear of being burned alive while trapped in a classroom, other than having your child burning alive while trapped in a classroom, we as parents, cannot save them from.  

You need to go back years before you find a fire with 10 or more deaths (NFPA). 1958 saw Our Lady of Angels School, in Chicago have a fire with 95 deaths. Since then and just as a snap shot, from 2009 to 2013 there was one fatality in a school related fire and it is unclear whether that death was directly related to the fire or some other health issue of that victim such as a heart attack. The point is—times have changed.

Look in your classroom or work space. How many sprinklers do you see in the ceiling? In rooms I have been in, I have seen as many as five. The classrooms and most work areas are made now with fire retardant material and the fire marshal conducts annual inspections, making sure the rooms and spaces are safe and up to code. The American public demands their children are safe in schools, and it will be, hopefully, a far off day, when any of our children die in a fire. Drowning from the sprinklers working well, but not by fire.

So why do schools have to practice such an event every month? In Arizona, the fire code pushes districts to practice an evacuation every month. There are other things which can generate an evacuation, natural gas for example.

Many schools have natural gas piped to their schools. These come in via a large four inch pipe under high pressure, and is stepped down to a lower pressure to the individual classrooms. Somewhere in this line, things could go wrong and break. Gas, forming in a confined space like a classroom, could reach a level between the lower explosive limit or LEL and the upper explosive limit or UEL. This is the sweet spot for ignition. And the ignition source can be something as mundane as turning on the light switch.

Bomb threats, smoke, anything that would require the movements of students to a safe area could be grounds for an evacuation, including the entire campus leaving for some other facility away from the school. You are the guide for your students. Each class should be walked to their evacuation area. If a student is in the restroom or coming back to the class, you, as their teacher, need to have taught them what to do, to not come back to class and to hurry to their evacuation site and join you.

This works pretty well with younger students. High school students sometimes have a little trouble choosing between their friends and you. You can only do so much and what you do is to take roll once you arrive and see who is missing. You have an evacuation notebook or folder or gradebook that has the most recent roster in it. If you are like schools in Arizona, you have students coming and going in your classes all year so you need to update that roster pretty regularly. Once roll is taken, those missing you write on another piece of paper and hold it up so an administrator can see it. Some schools have forms for this. Hopefully, an administrator will come around and get it from you, radio in the student name, and a decision whether to go launch a search for that child will be made. You don’t go looking. You have the rest of the class to care for.

If you have a handicapped student and you are on a second or higher floor, it will depend on whether you can use the elevator or not and if you or the student has a key to access it. In Arizona, many students with mobility issues are on the ground level but occasionally you have one on a higher floor, maybe from a temporary injury and they need to use the elevator. Sometimes, during a fire/evacuation event, the elevators are sent to the ground floor and do not function without a fire key, owned by the fire department. In this case, the schools should provide what is called an Area of Rescue or Refuge. On these rare events where you have a child like this on a higher floor and you cannot use the elevators, you are the teacher of record or the one responsible for them. You need to stay with that child and have a neighboring teacher take the rest of your students and your roster with them. If you have an aide, you can send them with the class for attendance and supervision.

There is a liability with this so check with your school administration. I would be willing to bet no one has asked them.


Mark Williams, Special Agent, Ret.
April 13, 2017

This is just going to be a bad day, on lock down day. Anytime, in any location or job, you have to lock yourself in to a place with the stark reality of your life being extinguished by someone you only see on TV, is just bad. But you have to deal with it, you have to deal with the fact it might not only be you, but a room full of students or colleagues from kindergarten to college. What do you do?

There are several things we need to think about. We need to think about ourselves and our abilities and what we can do, physically and mentally, to stay alive.  What can ‘I’ do to live to see the sunset one more time?  

Here is something we don’t often hear. There is no requirement we save anyone. Shock huh? Even the police are not ‘required’ to lay their life on the line for you, for me. But they do. We cannot ask our teachers or staff to do the same. But we do, we would. That is who we are, but we need to know what we can do, then practice it and rehearse it. We don’t want to try to figure it out when our pulse is at 180 beats a minute and we can’t come up with our own name.

A lock down means there is someone, a student, a former employee, a current employee, someone who has no connection to the school, on campus and in the process of killing people and here is the fun part—your next. What are you going to do? In this topic, you will be asked questions, you have probably never been asked before and they can apply as a thread throughout some of the other topics as well.

First thing we do is stop teaching and secure yourself in your room. Once you lock your door, no one gets in unless they have a key or force their way in. Students in the restroom are on their own. Train them to stay there, crawl up on the toilet, lock the stall door if they can and get real quiet.

If you have students, you secure them against a wall, low on the floor, away as best you can from ‘sight lines,’ those lines a shooter might be able to see in to your room and see if anyone is there. If you have curtains, close them, turn out the lights, computers, and ‘get small and get quiet.’ Under NO circumstances do you put a colored card out under the door to indicate your status used years ago and unfortunately still used in some locations—Green means ‘all good’ and Red means ‘we have a problem.’ There will be no one there to see it or do anything about it, except the shooter. They will see the card, in a room they thought was empty—you got small and quiet, remember? And now they have people they can attack. The whole goal is to disappear.

With our changing communities, you might have students from other countries who know this is a bad thing because they lived it. They truly could be suffering from some form of post-traumatic shock, PTSD, and begin to panic. If they see calm in you, that will help. It will help for everyone. Your insides will be screaming, but your demeanor will calm the room. All of a sudden, you are the person they look to for assurance. If you can’t find it in you, fake it. There is no other way. You need to buy time, about fifteen to twenty minutes, until the cavalry, the police, get there. Your day, your life, comes down to that window of time.

No cell phones and no texting. If you have yours, have it with you. DON’T call the office and ask ‘Hey, is this real? I got a lab going here and I —.” We need to practice and unfortunately, it’s during your lab or meeting. In Arizona, for example, it is possible to have a lockdown as a quick response to some weather event. In your area, it might mean getting under a desk or some kind of barricades an administrator will come on the PA and clarify. For this class, however, it means someone wants to do us harm.

No one except those that need to know, should realize which event is practice and what isn’t, so, for a teacher or staff member, they are ALL real. We will play like we practice and if we do it well, that sunset view might just happen.

Have a plan for your students’ personal needs. Is there a way you can set up a toilet facility, have snacks for those who might be diabetic or have sugar needs, toilet paper, and NO WATER or drinks.  Older students, what about feminine products? Is there some place you can have as a facility set up---remembering to ‘be small and be quiet? A lock down could take a while, but if you have a shelter in place or some step down security level, it should be shorter, but start to think about where you can set up things, but only if you don’t make noise or expose you and your students to an outside threat.

What does your location have as far as a plan? Is there one printed you can have with some of these steps listed? Is there a list in an Emergency folder you can leave for your substitute? Your trash can becomes a toilet. This is especially true if you are locked down for hours, a key reason for a shelter in place condition. Do we have a secondary escape route in case we need to leave?  In Columbine, students were throwing themselves out of second story windows to escape. Can you do that? What are you to do? Like I said, it’s a bad day.

You can ask how many people have died in a school related fire in the last twenty or thirty years and the answer might surprise you, none.

What about weather or a shooter? The numbers go way up to well over a hundred killed and hundreds of thousands seriously hurt from school related violence every year.

Hundreds of thousands. In the years of 2007- 2012, four events alone had 84 people killed—in just four events (USDOJ).

The lockdown is your Alamo. You need to hold on for a while, alone. Help is coming but since the shooting at Columbine High School in April, 1999, police have changed their tactics and instead of coming to rescue you, they are going to the threat. They can’t get to you without first making the shooter or attacker stop the attack. You have to survive until they do.

Here comes the hard question, and this course only starts the thought process, which was the intent—what are you willing to do to live? That thought, that answer will determine whether you see a sunset or not.


Simone Robers, Jana Kemp, American Institutes for Research, Jennifer L. Truman, Ph.D., Bureau of Justice Statistics, Thomas D. Snyder, National Center for Education Statistics, Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2012, June 26, 2013  NCJ 241446