Hudson -- During a Feb. 26 morning lockdown at Hudson High School, Superintendent Phil Herman utilized one of the district's newest tools in its arsenal of student and staff protection -- social media.

As police searched for a "suspicious character" in a black ski mask and trench coat, Herman posted from his @philherman Twitter account about unfolding events.

"Hudson High School had been placed in lockdown due to a suspicious character spotted outside the building. Police called. Building secured," Herman tweeted just before 11 a.m.

Thankfully, the "suspicious character" turned out to be no threat. He was a "legitimate visitor" to the school, according to Herman.

Subsequent tweets included the downgrade of the security lockdown to an instructional lockdown, the call for an ambulance for an ill staff member unrelated to the lockdown and the lifting of the lockdown.

During a security lockdown students and teachers stay out of sight, taking cover according to practiced protocol, according to the district. During an instructional lockdown, doors remain locked, the building remains secure, but teachers continue their lessons.

According to Herman, communication is the second tier of an emergency situation, after insuring student and staff are protected.

"I know as a parent that learning that there is a lockdown is terrifying, and we have been working on ways to more quickly confirm for parents that their students are safe," Herman said Feb. 26. "We decided that we would use the voice message system, the email message system, and social media where applicable and appropriate. Because I was at the high school, I felt as though I could provide timely and accurate information to our parents and students."

The potential threat was reported shortly after 10 a.m.

"A student reported seeing a suspicious person who was dressed in a black trench coat and a black knit ski hat with a face mask," according to District Communication Manager Sheryl Sheatzley. "The person was observed in the west wing parking lot. However, as a legitimate visitor, the person had been in the building and was leaving when the student reported what he saw to a teacher."

After the report, the district turned to its "comprehensive crisis communications plan that includes a general message that is sent as quickly as possible," Sheatzley said.

"Once more information is known, the superintendent delivers a message to parents as soon as possible that contains more details," Sheatzley added. "Social media, such as Twitter, is a quick way to spread a general message."

However, Sheatzley stressed social media is "only used after our safety plan is in effect and our students and staff are safe."

Quick communication is important during a crisis situation, Herman said.

"In today's world, communication happens very quickly from our students and staff regarding a lockdown," Herman said. "Many parents and community members learn of the lockdown while it is being implemented. What is important is that we communicate quickly and accurately once we ensure our students' safety. Social media is can be an important communication tool."

Herman also used Twitter to advise that an ambulance called to the school was for a high school food service worker who became ill and not due to the situation. The staff member's condition was not known at press time.

The district will continue to use social media as a communication tool, "when appropriate," Herman said.

"Our primary source of communication will be the phone voice message system, but we will use other electronic media to get a consistent message to parents, students, and staff," Herman said.

After the situation was over, Herman sent an email update to parents.

"First and foremost, I want you to know that the instructional lockdown at the high school is over and our students are safe," Herman wrote. "The lockdown was initiated because a student spotted a person he thought was suspicious walking outside the high school. There was no threat and a legitimate visitor, who was visiting the high school, was dressed for the winter weather and was wearing a black coat and black hat with a face mask. The person was there to help with a student program."

And while there was no threat, the lockdown procedure worked as planned, due to monthly practice lockdown drills in each building, Sheatzley said.

"It is important to practice so that when the adrenaline is flowing the plan can be executed under duress," Sheatzley said.

After the lockdown, Herman received at least two emails from parents, thanking him for the communication via Twitter and the many retweets of information which was posted, he said.

And while there ultimately was no threat, Herman expressed gratitude for everyone involved in the lockdown process.

"I am very pleased with the actions of the student who shared his concern, the staff and administration at the high school during the lockdown, and the quick response and assistance from the Hudson Police Department," Herman said. "In this case, there was never a threat to our students. However, I am proud of the response from each of those groups."


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