Monday, September 20, 2010

Bomb Threat

Here is an excerpt from a Chicago Tribune article last week:

"We can think of few things more unsettling than learning that a headless body — alongside an unexploded pipe bomb — has been discovered near your child's middle school.

That's what parents in Evanston faced Tuesday (09/14), after a man walking his dog made the grisly find at a park adjacent to Nichols Middle School. Parents were especially upset that they heard about it only when they arrived to drop off their kids for school — or when the school bus returned the youngsters to the bus stop with the news that classes were canceled. The school remained closed the next day, and questions from parents were flying much faster than answers from school officials or police.

We share parents' alarm, their concerns for their children's safety and yes, their curiosity. But their dissatisfaction at the pace of information strikes us as a sign of the times. Thanks to the cell phone and the BlackBerry, to e-mail alerts and text messaging and continuously updated Internet news sites, we've come to expect nearly instant communication.

The timeline of events is not so damning. Though the explosion was reported at 3:53 a.m., police who searched the area couldn't find anything to explain it. They left. It wasn't until around 5:15 a.m. that the dog walker found the body; by the time he got home and notified police, it was 5:48 a.m.

The body was found near the city tennis courts and play lot, at the south end of the block; the school is at the north end. It's fair to assume the responding officers had their hands full. The area was taped off, but it was more than an hour — 7:15 a.m. — before police sat down with school officials. The call to close the school was made around 7:30 a.m., a notice was placed on the district Web site by 8 a.m. and an e-mail blast was sent to parents 10 minutes later.

No, that wasn't enough notice to prevent many people from showing up for an 8:30 a.m. start. But it doesn't sound like anyone was being lackadaisical or indecisive. And those who showed up for school weren't allowed anywhere near the crime scene. They may have been inconvenienced, but they weren't endangered.

A very few years ago, the district's ability to notify parents of the emergency would have been far more limited — the local radio station, a rudimentary phone tree. If you rewind the years (or months) to mark your own technological milestones, you may be surprised to realize how recently you learned about texting or how little time has passed since the entire family relied on a single land-line phone. This drama would have played out very differently even five years ago. Then, as now, nobody would have gotten hurt. Nobody would have complained that the e-mail came too late, either.

Evanston school officials have had blessedly little experience with headless bodies on the playground. Short of staffing a 24-hour crisis line, we're not sure they could get the word out much faster, though this week's lessons — and tomorrow's technology — might change that. Let's hope we never find out."

Congratulations, José M. Osorio (author of the aricle). I consider this to be responsible journalism.

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Security Practices for Volunteers

Chicago, IL - According to a suburban police report from this past weekend, a female volunteer at a local catholic school/church was robbed and assualted as she prepared to sell fundraiser gift cards.
The offender approached the victim, who was alone at the time, and demanded money while displaying a black semi-automatic handgun. The victim complied by retrieving $4.00 from her purse. The offender became irate and struck the victim underneath her right eye with a closed fist. He then demanded and stole the "manna" fundraiser gift cards (for grocery stores and gas stations) from the victim.

What kind of thoughts does this story bring to mind? How could this incident have been avoided? What staffing and cash handling practices do you have in place to guard against this kind of situation?