On January 10, there was a lockdown at Sleepy Hollow Middle and High School. The lockdown was implemented due to a teacher and several students entering a classroom to find the words “a school shooting could occur today” written on the blackboard. Though the school was locked down for nearly three hours, it was soon clear that there was no imminent danger to the students or staff.
The lockdown has been thoroughly covered by the media but River Journal wanted to look at the response to the situation by the school district and the villages of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.
According to School Superintendent Chris Borsari, within minutes of being notified by the teacher about the perceived threat, both Tarrytown Police Chief John Barbelet and Sleepy Hollow Police Chief Anthony Bueti were by his side. Having the two chiefs and the school superintendent together immediately allowed them to work together in real time and communicate as a team with the people affected.
“We set up a unified command center inside Chris’s office,” said Chief Bueti. “Between the Tarrytown police, Sleepy Hollow police and the public schools of the Tarrytowns, we all worked together and pooled our limited resources to get the job done.”
“When the incident occurred at the high school/middle school it fell under Sleepy Hollow’s geographical area which put them as the lead agency,” noted Chief Barbelet. “This does not mean for a minute that we do not work together. We pool our resources and make decisions together, all with the main goal of protecting the students, faculty and the community.”
Though happy with the response and cooperation of all involved, the team is always looking for ways to improve. “Every time we do a drill, or in this case an event that wasn’t a drill, we do a lot of things well but we use every one as an opportunity to learn,” said Borsari. The villages and the school district have regular meetings between district safety teams, first-responders, parents, and board members. Those meeting are not only to ensure that all obligations and regulations are being met, but also as a way to debrief past events and process and prepare for future ones.
“This is an example of how well the villages and school district work together during an emergency,” noted Sleepy Hollow Village Administrator Anthony Giaccio. “A great deal of planning goes into this coordinated effort and our emergency responders should be commended for the leadership that they provide.”
Tarrytown Village Administrator Richard Slingerland echoed those sentiments. “The Village of Tarrytown is happy with the level of cooperation we experienced between Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow and the UFSD of the Tarrytowns to address this lockdown situation.”
A big part of dealing with a situation like this is balancing safety issues with the need to alert the community. “Our first priority when a situation arises is to make sure everyone is safe,” emphasized Borsari. “But we know communication is critical – getting the message out to parents, faculty and staff as quickly as possible but not at the cost of the safety of those directly involved. We sent out email blasts and texts to everybody in the district, letting them know we would be communicating more information.” According to both police chiefs, communication nowadays is trickier because of the proliferation of social media. False information is often out there in minutes.
“The most important thing for me is to express my sincere thanks and appreciation on behalf of all of our students, staff, and our parents for the cooperation, caring and concern of our village partners, particularly our first responders,” said Borsari. “Unfortunately, because of the environment in which we are living, we’ve had to dedicate a lot of time, money, and resources to planning and preparing for various emergency situations. Over the last four years, the cooperation and partnership between the district and both of our villages has been really important to us and that became very evident when we had this lockdown situation.”