An onrushing sea of students pour from the school’s back doors and into the warm afternoon air en route to Sasso Field as part of the year’s final security drill.
By now, the students have the hang of it: evacuate the building, walk to the field, ascend the bleachers and take up with your first period class so the teacher can take attendance.
The whole process takes about 20 minutes, said Detective Lt. Michael Uttel, who was on hand from the as a tactical safety consultant.
“Over the last 10 years we’ve really perfected it,” he said. “Everything started as a result of Columbine in ‘99 and since then we’ve tweaked it to make it work for the specific location here.”
Fair Lawn schools have been holding active shooter-style drills for years, ahead of many other area districts as well as the state’s 2010 school security drill mandate, Uttel said.
Since November 1, 2010, every school in the state has been required to hold at least one fire drill and one school security drill each month. In addition to active shooter drills, other mandated school security drills include an emergency evacuation, a bomb threat and a lockdown procedure – each of which must be held at least twice per school year.
Friday’s evacuation drill – intended to simulate a situation where being in or near the school building poses a threat -- is the only exercise where the students convene at Sasso Field, a location that was chosen for a multitude of reasons.
“It’s away form the school, it’s confined, it’s observable,” Uttel said. “It’s tactically advantageous to have it here.”
After all the students have been accounted for and return to the building, the drill’s orchestrators – from school administrators to police to the borough’s -- meet to debrief and discuss what worked and what needs to be tweaked.
“It’s a collaborative effort,” Uttel said. “We all have our specific areas of specialty, so we’ll brainstorm afterward to see how we can improve.”