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Indiana schools weighing whether to delay fire evacuations in light of recent shootings

JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. – The next time a fire alarm goes off in an Indiana school, teachers and staff could wait up to three minutes before evacuating students from classrooms.

A school safety measure recently passed by state lawmakers gives schools the option of delaying fire evacuations by up to three minutes so teachers and staff members can check hallways for threats other than fire and smoke.

The measure was added to state law in light of recent school shootings where armed attackers tripped fire alarms to lure students out of classrooms, making them easy targets.

Nineva-Hensley-Jackson Schools Superintendent, Dr. Tim Edsell says his district already has plans to adopt the evacuation option into their safety plan.

“In light of the recent events of what’s happened in the past couple years with school shootings, of the fire alarms being pulled, I think it is a best practice,” Edsell told WXIN. “To make sure that we do a sweep of some kind before we release students to the outside.”

The evacuation delay option is just the latest safety discussion to address fire alarms in schools. Earlier this year, talk was brewing on social media about getting rid of fire alarm pull stations inside schools. A position statement by the Indiana Fire Chiefs Association said fire chiefs around the state were being asked how to officially and safely remove pull-stations in a school building. Those conversations prompted a message of caution from some fire officials.

"We want to slow the whole conversation down," said Fishers Fire Department Captain John Mehling.

The law addressing fire evacuation delays leaves room for schools to adopt locally-specific safety plans, and several districts are still working on those.

In the event of a fire alarm, Perry Township Schools officials say teachers are being instructed to check hallways before evacuating classrooms, but the district does not plan to officially adopt a three-minute delay.

Avon Community School officials declined to release specific details of their safety plans, but district spokesperson Stacy Moore released a statement on the issue.

“However, please note that there may be threat conditions that would reroute or exclude exit from a school in the event that a fire alarm is triggered as a diversionary tactic or to concentrate students in a location to make them targets of a threat,” the statement said.

White River Township Fire Chief Jeremy Pell says he and other public safety officials are currently consulting with Center Grove Schools on the matter. His initial reaction to the evacuation delay option is positive.

“The new reality is that we have to be aware of all hazards,” Pell said. “Put the schools in a position where they can react either to a fire or a violent incident without violating the law.”

Pell said discussions with Center Grove about the evacuation policy are still ongoing. Several other districts, like Greenwood Community Schools, are also waiting to see new guidelines from the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Pell said those guidelines are expected to be sent to the governor’s office by August 1.