SOMERVILLE, NJ – Police were summoned to Somerville Middle School at 10:07 a.m.Wednesday in response to a lockdown situation, forcing all students and administrators to remain behind locked doors in their classrooms and offices until a complete search of the school by police was conducted.
It was not a drill, with students and staff on edge, many fearing the worst for little more than an hour until police gave the “all clear” at 11:11 a.m.
The building’s Standard Response Protocol automated system was triggered after a staff member heard the mechanized recording providing instructions inside a classroom as she walked by in the hallway, according to Dr. Timothy Teehan, superintendent of schools. The classroom teacher was instructing students how to trigger the SRP system by keying in a code in the event of an emergency.
“In the beginning of the school year we train the teachers and the teachers train their students,” Teehan said.
The staff member rushed into the school’s auditorium and shouted “Lockdown” to an unsuspecting group of students and teachers who had gathered for an assembly. A second staff member keyed in the emergency code, which went directly to the police, according to Teehan.
Students were instructed to get on the floor in between the rows of auditorium seats while teachers scurried to secure the doorways into the room. The lights were turned off, plunging the large room into darkness; emergency lighting would come on intermittently, according to accounts of students and parents.
Students in the auditorium heard police going from room-to-room in the hallways that surround the auditorium, ensuring that there were no intruders in any of the rooms.
“Kudos to the Somerville Police; they did an awesome job, responded quickly and went through the building room-by-room,” Teehan said.
The SRP was implemented last year in an effort to improve safety and security at the borough’s three public schools following the spate of school shootings across the United States.
Other school districts in Somerset County have since adopted the same system, according to Teehan.
Teehan, whose office is in a building adjacent to the Middle School on West High Street at first thought it was a drill but soon determined otherwise. State law requires school systems to conduct several safety and precautionary drills the first ten days of the school year.
He was able to communicate with teachers and administrators in the Middle School, as well as police, via text messaging.
“At the beginning of the school year, all teachers review the safety procedures and automated alert system,” he explained in an email that was sent out to parents immediately after the incident.
"As a result, an individual walking in the hallway believed they overhead the automated alert message for a lockdown and thought it was an actual alert and reacted accordingly. As a result, the individual initiated the lockdown for the school,” Teehan added.
“Throughout the entire lockdown, all students and staff were safe at all times,” Teehan added. The lockdown ended at 11:11 a.m. The students and staff followed all safety procedures in place. The Somerville Police Department arrived to Somerville Middle School and followed their established protocol and deemed everything safe."
His letter to parents concluded, “Although it is unfortunate that we went into a lockdown, we are very pleased that all established safety and security measures in place were followed according to the safety plan. For any students and staff that were upset by the lockdown, we have support staff available for counseling.
“The staff member reacted appropriately,” Teehan said, “instead of doing nothing at all. The system worked exactly as it is supposed to and the teachers and students reacted like they're supposed to,” he added. “They treated this as the real thing.”
Classes resumed following the "all clear."