Wednesday, October 03, 2001

Red alert

Yesterday, there was a fire drill at my kids' school.

Now, straightaway, I'll say that I'm not nuts about fire drills. I want my kids to be safe, sure, and to know what to do in a crisis. But I also know that the mere sound of a fire drill creates a crisis right then and there for my sensory-integration-disordered boy. He doesn't have sensory defensiveness issues about much anymore, he can be near a working vacuum without melting down, he can go to a mall without being overwhelmed, he can be held without panicking -- but fire alarms and car alarms and ambulance sirens still put him on full hysteria alert. He covers his ears, his face screws up into pre-tear position, and he begs to get out of there.

Of course, at school, what follows a fire alarm is indeed getting out of there, but that hasty leaving of the classroom, standing outside for an indefinite period of time, then going back in and being expected to pick up right where you left off is also not tops in his emotional repertoire. In past years, a fire drill has been enough to launch him into disruptive behavior for the rest of the day. These days, I know his behavior's in better control, but this sort of thing still raises his stress level to the point of affecting his ability to focus and function.

Still, I suppose fire drills are a necessary evil, and as long as his teachers know to expect some repercussions, there's probably no major harm done.

But yesterday's fire drill was different.

For one thing, it involved every school in our city and the neighboring one -- elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, private and public schools alike.

For another thing, it lasted an hour and a half.

Driving past one of our middle schools while this was going on, I noticed K-9 Unit trucks from a neighboring county, and an officer with a dog heading toward the building. I immediately jumped to conclusions, and sure enough, the note that came home from the principal at the end of the day confirmed that there had been a bomb threat. Students had had to wait outside, further from the building than usual, while each building was checked and cleared. An individual had been apprehended for making the threats. I hope someone makes him just sit around and be bored for a long, long time.

I didn't get a chance to talk to my son's teacher yesterday to see how he weathered the most disruptive fire drill ever. He was a little jangled when he got home, but he's been worse. Maybe he is getting mature enough, or is in a special-ed class secure enough, that he can weather these storms without losing his way.

However, if they have many more emergency drills like this, I'm going to be in full hysteria alert.

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