Suspect search tests area campuses

Published 11:31 pm Friday, September 3, 2010

Shortly after someone spotted a wanted suspect in red boxer shorts near Jefferson Davis Community College Wednesday morning, students’ cell phones starting buzzing.

The college’s emergency alert system — which sends text messages, emails and phone calls in the event of an emergency announcement — notified students and staff that the Brewton campus was on lockdown.

The situation was resolved later in the day, but JDCC president Dr. Susan McBride said she was glad that the alert system worked — and she hopes it will convince anyone who is not participating in the system to sign up.

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“This will really give those students a reason to participate,” McBride said.

JDCC only uses the alert system for emergencies, rather than regular announcements.

“We don’t want anyone to disregard the messages,” McBride said.

The emergency alert system has already been used for weather issues and a power outage. “It’s been very useful,” McBride said.

McBride said she was pleased that the system worked Wednesday.

“It could have been very dangerous,” McBride said. “(The suspect) could have come on campus and stolen a car or taken a hostage. We don’t know what we might have prevented.”

Meanwhile, Escambia-Brewton Career Technical Center observed lockdown status during a large portion of the day, and principal David Lanier said students and staff followed procedures flawlessly.

“I couldn’t have asked for any procedures to be followed any better,” Lanier said. “Once we had our doors secured and informed teachers of the situation, everyone responded just perfectly.”

Lanier said procedure at the school under such circumstances required that all doors be locked, lights turned off and students proceed to designated areas away from windows and to remain quiet until any danger had passed.

“I am very proud of the way our teachers and students reacted,” Lanier said. ‘I went from class to class to check on everyone and there were some classrooms that were so quiet that I wasn’t sure there was anyone inside. Everyone acted responsibly and exactly as they had been trained.”

Lanier said a fire drill at the school just one day before the incident had some wondering if the Wednesday lock-down was just another test.

“I let them know that what the situation was real and to follow procedures,” Lanier said. “I commend everyone for how they handled the situation.”

Lanier said the safety of the students is always a top concern at the school, which prompted a decision to end morning sessions early and cancel afternoon sessions at the school.

“We made a decision to have all students off campus at 10:30 a.m.,” Lanier said. “We sent all of our two- and three-hour students back to their respective schools at that time. Since the situation seemed to be taking a while to solve, we agreed not to hold afternoon sessions. The safety of our students is our number one priority and we took steps to make sure they were safe.”

All county schools have policies and procedures in place to handle a variety of situations including inclement weather, bomb threats and police activity.