Wednesday was not an easy day for those of us living in Ottawa.
A lone gunman paralyzed the downtown core for several hours and there were rumours flying around about more armed suspects in the area. There were reports—later proven to be false—that a shooting had also occurred inside the Rideau Centre shopping mall.
There was also a widespread power outage in our area at about the same time, which did nothing to calm anybody's fears or anxiety. Chaos and misinformation was spreading quickly and on a day like this, your mind begins racing.
So naturally, our thoughts turned to our own children and their safety. We live in the suburbs in Ottawa and a quick Google Map search shows that our kids' school is 17.9 km away from Parliament Hill. So while there was never really any concern for their safety, there was still a sense of "What in the world is going on in our city today?"
Thankfully, our school board did a terrific job in keeping parents updated on the situation as it pertained to the children. At 12:20 p.m. we received an email notifying us that a number of schools in the Ottawa area had been placed in "secure school" mode—meaning kids were locked inside the school, but able to move from class to class. A few minutes later, our home phone rang and an automated message from the school board relayed the exact same information.
Then around 2:15 p.m., another mass email went out detailing the dismissal procedures for school children in the area. There was confirmation that the transportation authority would notify the schools when all children were delivered safely on the bus.
The school boards also took to social media to make sure parents were well-informed of what was happening with their kids on Wednesday. Shortly after the shootings took place, the @OCDSB account—which represents one of the school boards in Ottawa—tweeted the following:
"Parents are asked not to attempt to pick up their kids from #OCDSB schools—All schools remain in Secure School or Shelter In Place."
Shortly thereafter, they sent another reassuring tweet to parents who may have been in a lockdown situation themselves:
"Parents: Staff will remain at schools until all children have been picked up or are on a bus."
Throughout the day, there was constant and real-time communication between the school boards and parents on a variety of platforms.
When my wife picked up our kids from school that day, our oldest daughter had already heard about the incident at Parliament Hill. She said they made a P.A. announcement in the late morning, saying there had been an incident in downtown Ottawa and as a result, they had decided to go into "safe" mode for the afternoon. That meant they didn't go outside for their extended lunch recess and were kept inside for the day.
A handful of kids at the school had smartphones and were able to find out about the shooting during the lunch hour. One of our daughter's classmates was called down to the office because her mom wanted to speak with her and let her know that she was OK, even though her office was in lockdown next to Parliament Hill.
But nobody from the school would tell the students exactly what was happening downtown. The grade five teacher told our daughter's class, "When you go home tonight, your parents can fill you in on what happened."
Read more: Talking to your kids about tragedy>
I thought that was a really smart way to handle things, because some parents may not have wanted their child to know about what happened near Parliament Hill. And if the teachers and staff started explaining exactly what happened, the students may have become panicked about their parent's safety if they worked in the downtown core. My daughter did ask my wife if I was working downtown that day, because our radio station is in the shadow of Parliament Hill. But fortunately, I was out in Kanata at the Ottawa Senators arena that day, so I was nowhere near the chaos and terror that had gripped downtown.
And our youngest daughter came home with a typed letter from the school, explaining exactly what happened that day and how the situation was handled by the school. If we had any questions, we were encouraged to contact the school.
So even though our kids' school was far enough removed from Parliament Hill, I think our school board did an excellent job in communicating the message to parents and keeping the students calm.
Heaven forbid that if something like this does happen again, this experience gives us a sense of reassurance that there is a clear and organized system in place for the school boards to communicate with parents during a time of crisis.
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