Tornado renews focus on safety in New Jersey schools

May 21, 2013 1:25:53 PM PDT
The disaster in Oklahoma and what it did to those schools has many in our area wanting to know what evacuation plans are in place here.

At one school in Bloomfield, New Jersey on Tuesday, the principal was instructing students to assume their lockdown positions.

The instructions are specific, and the drill so efficient, it's chilling.

Within seconds, doors are locked and you could hear a pin drop in the empty hallways.

Meanwhile, little first graders sit quietly in their dark classroom closets, a sight that's both impressive and sad, but it is reality.

The school, and many others, will have ten of these lockdown drills each year in Bloomfield.

"Practice makes perfect," said Demarest Elementary School principal Mary Todaro. "We want the children to react, not stop and think: what should I do?"

But can parents say the same thing?

It depends on the district.

One mom from Belleville told us she has no idea what her school's emergency plan is.

"Not at all, not at all, to be honest," said parent Janet Colon.

On Facebook and Twitter, we posed the same question, and got mixed responses, one woman writing, "I don't."

But one school writes that they have a plan in place, including alternate sites to meet, and a safety team.

In most districts, reverse 911 calls are the go-to in emergencies.

But just last month in Passaic, the evacuation plan during a series of bomb scares at several schools proved ineffective, when schools were the actual targets for the phoned-in threats.

What it comes down to is backup to the backup, especially in natural disasters like the one in Oklahoma City, and in Bloomfield during Superstorm Sandy.

"Signs were posted on the outside of our high school and elementary schools, and it was a way to give information about school closings and potential re-openings," said Acting Bloomfield Schools Superintendent Nicholas Dotoli. "We didn't have the tech luxury of cell phones and Internet."