Safety regulations stir discussion, procedure questioned

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Ji-Ho Lee

Every student knows the drill. As the lights blink and the alarms shriek, teachers and administrators usher people out of the building at the sound of a fire alarm. Students return to their classes after a few minutes, and teachers continue with their lessons.
The school requires its students and teachers to engage in different safety procedures, most commonly fire drills. For junior Sam Rentschler, these drills often feel unnecessary.
“I think by this point in my RBHS career, I know how to safely exit the building,” Rentschler said. “I don’t think there need to be fire drills as frequently. It is a pretty simple concept: if there is a fire in the building, you get out of the building. I think it is nice to practice so you know where the closest exit is, but the repetition is kind of unnecessary.”
Rentschler’s claims may be justified. Assistant principal Dr. Tim Baker, who is the main coordinator of drills in the school,   explained that state mandates require the school to conduct 10 fire drills per year, including two within the first two weeks of school.
Another complaint from students such as senior Michael Jay Schauwecker is that the fire drills cause distraction in their classes.
“It is frustrating sometimes when you are working hard in a class and all of a sudden the alarm starts going off and you have to get up and walk out of the building,” Schauwecker said. “It disrupts class, and it is really hard to focus after you come back into the school.”
Although the distractions may impact students and teachers during drills, United States history teacher Kimberly Thielen-Metcalf explains that they are inevitable. She also thinks the practice is beneficial despite its occasional redundancy.
“I don’t have a problem with fire drills; we need them. I think it is just common sense safety,” Thielen-Metcalf said. “There are many things in the running of a high school that cause distractions. Teachers know that. It’s an occupational hazard.”
While some find the drills vital and others dislike them and their interruption, the state requires them nonetheless.  
“We have mandates that the school board sets down and some that the state sets down about how many drills are required, so we simply follow what we are told to follow,” Baker said. “It is up to me plan when to schedule them, but we generally do what we are supposed to do.”
Along with fire drills and weather-related practices, the school also practices two different types of bomb threat drills. In one of these, the students and teachers in the school evacuate the building. In the other, the teacher of the class discusses the protocol for a potential bomb drill evacuation.
“[The bomb drills] are a little redundant, to be honest, because if there is a bomb threat, we all know what to do: get out of the building,” Baker said. “But they are really more for teachers because we have protocol and certain things that teachers should look for in a classroom. For instance if there is a real bomb threat, we are supposed to get kids out . . . If you tell all the kids to evacuate but one kid left their backpack in the corner, you might be concerned about that. So it is more of a teacher drill.”
RBHS also engages in intruder drills and lockdown drills. Often referred to as ALICE (Alert Lockdown Inform Counter Evacuate) drills, Baker wishes to see more of these procedures practiced in the future.
“If it was up to me, we would have many more intruder or ALICE drills,” Baker said. “There have been about 750 people die from school shootings in the past 20 years, which is more than in fires, so where should we focus our efforts? For me it is more towards intruder drills …. Right now we are told to do two intruder drills per year, so that’s what we do. But we have stated our opinion that we would like to see more intruder and less fire.”
While Baker wishes to practice more intruder drills, Thielen-Metcalf hopes drills one day will no longer be necessary. As recent events have indicated, however, the drills are required in the hopes that they increase student safety and livelihood.
“They are an unfortunate necessity,” Thielen-Metcalf said. “I wish we didn’t do them, but we do.”
What drills do you think are most needed today? Leave a comment below.