Fire Alarms and Fog Machines: Manitou’s New Security Procedures

Sam Weiss, Senior Reporter

On Wednesday, September 17, many students were confused when the fire alarms sounded and rather than being told to evacuate, school faculty directed students to go to the farthest corner from the door of their classrooms and remain silent while teachers locked their doors and pulled their blinds shut. As of last school year, this procedure, called shelter in place, has been integrated into the fire and lockdown policies of Manitou Springs High School.

“We can utilize the fire alarm for both procedures,” said Mark Gillis, who is the assigned Manitou Springs Police Department resource officer for the district.

Gillis says one factor for the policy was a concern that high school staff may not able to use the PA system to inform the rest of the school to perform lockdown procedure, so staff can now pull the fire alarm and the school will lockdown. Staff can then assess the situation and decide whether to perform the fire or lockdown procedures.

First responders in Colorado have collaborated on developing lockdown procedures specifically for a school-shooting incidence.

This strategy has been implemented in response to shootings like the one that occurred in Jonesboro, Arkansas in 1998, when students Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, shot their classmates and teachers after pulling a fire alarm and shooting their victims as they exited the building.

If there is an actual fire in the high school building, staff would tell students over the intercom that there was a fire and to evacuate the building instead of performing the lockdown procedure, according  to Manitou’s Dean of Curriculum and Instruction, Kolleen Johnson.

Johnson echoes the new reality of an emphasis on lockdown over the old fire drill. She points out that the high school building is made out of cinder block and that it would take a lot to burn it down.

Regardless of the procedure, the fire alarm remains an essential element in Manitou’s fire and lockdown procedures.

During the Homecoming Dance three days after the shelter in place drill, the fire alarms seemed to be malfunctioning throughout the entire dance. At first, many students were concerned for their safety.

“The fire alarms were doing their job,” said Gillis, “the fog has an oil base that caused the fire alarm located near the front office to sound off.”

Students and faculty do not need to be concerned as to how well the fire alarms are functioning. The fire alarms were working normally during the dance; it was the fog machine that was causing the fire alarms to sound off, but there was a resulting stir of panic during the first alarm. Gillis said that the use of a fog machine is no longer permitted at any Manitou school dances.