Bomb Threat Puts Emergency Procedures to the Test

October 4, 2013

by Karen Plumley

At 8:07 a.m. on Thursday, September 26, the Pelham Police Department was notified that Pelham Elementary School received a bomb threat from an anonymous male caller.  At this time, the school was not yet in session but there was a small group of daycare students present, as well as staff and administrators who were immediately evacuated.  The daycare children were taken to the nearby middle school and cared for in the gymnasium.  In the meantime, many buses filled with elementary students were already on their way.  Police officials state that they are aggressively investigating the incident, but no arrests have been made as of Wednesday, October 2, at 10 a.m.

Superintendent Amanda Lecaroz stated that there is a plan in place for such instances, and the plan was followed correctly.  She said the fact that children were already on busses posed an issue, but it was easily rectified by dropping the children off at the Middle School.

Police and Fire Department officials arrived at the scene within minutes to check out the situation, and they determined using federally (FBI/ATF) approved standards that the threat level was low.  According to Lieutenant Gary Fisher of the Pelham PD, a thorough search ensued around the perimeter of the school for suspicious tampering and/or packages.  When it was determined that there was nothing suspicious externally, administrators and staff were allowed back inside the building in order to check their areas.  Any adult who was uncomfortable with going back into the school could remain outside.  Accompanied by professionally trained fire and police personnel, elementary school staff entered the school cautiously and determined that there was nothing suspicious found internally either.  Normal school activities resumed at 9:58 a.m.

During the bomb search, Police officials at the entrance of the school directed all arriving vehicles to proceed to Pelham Memorial School.  Additionally, a call was placed to the Laidlaw bus company informing them of the circumstances.  In the meantime, both Pelham Memorial and Pelham High School were placed under shelter-in-place – normal school activities could continue but no one was allowed to leave classrooms, and visitors were not allowed to enter the building.

A general alert to the community was sent via social media by the Police Department at 9:03 a.m., and the schools sent out their alert message to parents at 9:44 a.m.  Parent reactions to the emergency procedures were generally positive.  Pelham resident Krista Day, mother of six who has five children attending Pelham schools, stated that all of her children at the three schools felt safe and were not distraught during the crisis.  “Kudos to the school staff for remaining calm and doing their best,” Day said.  Pelham resident Jan Rousseau concurred, “… teachers, students and first responders did an excellent job reacting to this threat.”

Lt. Fisher agreed that the emergency response went smoothly.  “Emergency procedures are continuously changing based on these incidents,” Fisher explained.  The changes do not happen on a daily basis, but Pelham Police and Fire Departments keep up to date with federal authorities’ recommendations and change their policies accordingly.  If the bomb threat had been determined to be legitimate, the next step according to Fisher would have been to contact a bomb squad.  Both New Hampshire State Police and the city of Nashua have fully trained bomb squads that will immediately respond to incidents of this nature.  Also, if the situation had been determined to be a higher threat, students would have been evacuated to an undisclosed location further from the elementary school, using planned and proven emergency evacuation procedures.

Concerns over if residents and parents were alerted in a timely manner were expressed, but Pelham resident Jan Rousseau pointed out that parents and citizens need to trust that they will be given information at the appropriate time in order to ensure everyone’s safety.  Rousseau, who at one time was a teller at a bank during a robbery, understands the restraint that law officials must practice in these emergency situations.  It is possible that panic might make an already difficult situation unmanageable, give a criminal an escape route, or even precipitate a hostage situation.

Rousseau also suggested that all parents sign up for Citizens Alert.  This alert system utilizes many forms of communication – including phone, e-mail and social media – to alert residents of impending crisis.  For more information about Citizens Alert or any emergency procedures, contact the Pelham Police Department at 635-2411.