Before I became a teacher, I had two different jobs that I liked a lot. I had been the assistant to the director of public information at a nearby hospital for five years; part of my assignment involved being the liaison for the news media in cases of serious accidents or incidents, releasing patient information according to accepted protocols. I was also the public information officer for a non-profit agency for a few years and talked with the news media on a fairly regular basis. I had that job when my children were young, and they would be very excited when Mom was on the TV news.
Then I became a teacher and all that work disappeared. After the Columbine shootings and other similar school tragedies in the 1990s, though, schools began to construct emergency plans, and my school was one of the first in our state to complete a very good one. My role in the school’s plan was to be the public information officer; I would be responsible for talking to the news media should any emergency occur. I was excited to be chosen for that task, since I had actual experience and had loved it. We held training sessions and completed an off-site evacuation drill that helped us improve the plan. We felt ready! But that was years ago, and of course there never was any kind of school catastrophe that required my expertise.
Today, though, I actually got to do the job.
A teacher reported a strong electrical odor in her classroom this morning, and when school officials were unable to locate the problem, they called 911 and pulled the fire alarm. All four hundred students filed outside as though it were a regular fire drill, but we quickly got word that it was not a drill and we would be outside for awhile.
Firefighters from our town plus three adjoining communities responded and they searched the building thoroughly! I was called to my “PIO” position and went to work. It was energizing and exhausting at the same time, and there was lots to do. Because the weather was cold and threatening to rain, school officials decided that we would have students evacuate the school property; we’re fortunate to have a local college with nearby facilities large enough to accommodate everyone. Part of my job today was to contact them and make those arrangements. The evacuation went off smoothly in spite of the fact that the school had not been able to set up an off-site drill in several years; many adults rose to the challenge, and the students were cooperative and very well behaved.
Then the local TV channel arrived on the scene and it was my task to greet them and give them the information they needed. It had been a very long time since I had been in that position, and while I am normally happiest to work behind the scenes, not drawing attention to myself, there is something very satisfying and even a bit thrilling to be the person in front of the camera. Maybe that was my two minutes of fame, and I didn’t even mind that the TV station ran the story tonight minus the interview tape.
At about the same time the press arrived, we got word that the building had been cleared and everyone could return to their classrooms. The origin of the problem was not determined, but I know that the firefighters investigated every possible cause before they pronounced the building safe. This is the best kind of emergency: no one was hurt, there was no damage to the school and it turned into a good practice exercise.
And I got to be the public information officer for real, this one time, before I retire in the spring. Ah, sweet satisfaction of a job completed! At least I hope it’s completed. As exhilarating as it is, once is enough.