Lowell’s emergency procedures are lacking: We need a new plan


From Hurricane Harvey to Hurricane Maria, from earthquakes in Mexico to fires in Napa and Sonoma counties, natural disasters have been sweeping the world. In these times of trouble, it is especially important to look at our own safety procedures to make sure we’re prepared for potential emergencies.

On Jan. 10, 19 of 80 of Lowell registries failed the annual lockdown drill. Out of the 19 registries that failed, 10 were supervised by substitute teachers, according to assistant principal Holly Giles.

Lowell did not do an adequate job of educating substitutes about basic emergency procedures, according to substitute teacher Gina Colligan. “You come in as a substitute and you have to figure out everything about the school immediately — you are given almost no information,” Colligan said. “You are given an attendance list and, if you’re lucky, you will be given a lesson plan.” This method of informally educating substitutes on the emergency procedures proved to be ineffective, as demonstrated by the lockdown drill failure.

In response to questions from The Lowell regarding the procedures, assistant principal Orlando Beltran implemented a new standardized system for educating substitutes. However, there’s more to be done.

At Lowell, there are several issues regarding the safety procedures, including problems with the evacuation routes, the public address system and the manner in which drills are practiced.

The school does not provide students with accurate simulations of emergency situations by only exercising certain drills during registry. Lockdown, earthquake and evacuation drills are only practiced during registry because this is the only way the school can make sure that most students are on campus, according to Giles.

“Most of the drills are convenient to happen during reg, but realistically, an actual emergency is not necessarily going to happen during registry.”

However, as registry is 15 minutes out of a seven-hour school day, it comprises only three percent of the normal school schedule, making it very unlikely that an actual emergency would happen during that time. “Most of the drills are convenient to happen during reg, but realistically, an actual emergency is not necessarily going to happen during registry,” assistant principal Margaret Peterson said.

Furthermore, because students are only able to participate in drill stimulations during this time of the day, their knowledge of where to go and what to do is limited to what they’ve experienced in that classroom. Therefore, students are not familiar with the evacuation routes from their other various classrooms, as well as the procedures for different situations. “All teachers teaching all classes should be required for every single class to spend five minutes to diagram the evacuation route to show where the students are supposed to go,” biology teacher Mark Wenning said. “Because if we only do it in registry, then students are only going to know where to go from their reg room.”

Another issue concerns Lowell’s two communication systems: the public address system and the telephones. These systems are simultaneously utilized for announcements in case either one malfunctions. In Wenning’s case, the telephone system is important for conveying information. “The PA system in this room is not so good, so it’s good the announcements also come over the phone system,” Wenning said.

The lines of the PA system were cut during the earthquake retrofitting construction and were not repaired, although the contractors knew about the issue. On Sept. 26, Beltran sent a survey to teachers about the PA system’s defectiveness and 11 teachers reported issues. The telephones were fixed on Sept. 29 but the PA system wires remain unrepaired.

Giles hopes to retrofit the PA system by replacing the current system with a live video-streaming service in an effort to prevent any future cases of miscommunication during an actual emergency. Alongside Beltran, she intends to provide more visual messages than auditory. Giles is currently researching a visual communication system and writing grants for the materials required. This proposition will require support from the school district and school staff because training time for teachers will be mandatory, according to Giles.


Instead of focusing on video systems for the future, the administration should focus on fixing the current PA system in case of telephones malfunctioning, as the PA and telephone systems serve to back up one another.

There are also problems with some of the actual evacuation routes that the school needs to address. For example, during a fire alarm or drill, classes from the science building use the fire lane to evacuate to the soccer field. However, fire vehicles also use this road to reach the source of the fire.

This poses a safety hazard to these students, according to Wenning. “You need to get students out of the streets because fire trucks are going to be there,” Wenning said. Rather than walking down the fire lane toward the soccer field, Wenning takes his class across the fire lane and down a dirt path that runs alongside it. “They still have to cross but at least they’re not walking 100 yards down, because that takes time,” Wenning said.

According to Lowell’s publicized evacuation routes, classes are allowed to utilize the fire lane to evacuate to the soccer field. However, according to San Francisco Fire Department Inspector Kerry Mann, these routes were not permitted in the original evacuation plans.

After being interviewed by The Lowell about this issue, Mann met with SFUSD Buildings and Grounds manager Nathan Walmer at Lowell on July 19 to look over the evacuation plans. According to Mann, students are only supposed to exit the building from the front and sides, and are not supposed to use the fire lane to get to the soccer fields. “They’re not supposed to be exiting out the back,” she said.

Walmer is now talking to Beltran about the disconnect between Lowell’s evacuation routes and the district’s original plan, according to Mann.

Lowell should improve the current evacuation routes so that classes in the science building can safely evacuate without blocking the fire trucks. Rather than just having certain drills during registry, Lowell should begin to perform drills during different times of the day to more accurately simulate real emergency situations. Overall, the administration should review and improve the current methods and procedures for the safety of everyone on campus.