Column: Word spreads quickly now

Apr. 12, 2014 @ 11:46 AM

After some students at Hudson Middle School mistook a knife in a man’s belt in the parking lot for a gun on Thursday, law enforcement officials recommended “soft” lockdowns (where the outer doors are locked but the school day otherwise is supposed to go on as normal indoors) of 11 schools.

And then we saw a demonstration of how information spreads today.

A number of parents found out about the lockdowns pretty much as soon as they happened: Their children texted word to them.

But what children texted — to parents or to friends at other schools — wasn’t necessarily entirely accurate, and by Friday the stories about what happened had grown in the telling as they passed from student to student. Our reporter Lex Menz visited Granite Falls Middle School on Friday morning and was told by a student this account of what had happened at Hudson Middle: A man who had a weapon had been photographing things suspiciously around the school, and when the school announced the lockdown, the man heard it and sped away, and meanwhile, inside the school, an announcement came over the speakers for everyone to run and hide, and students were screaming and crying and running all over. Elements of that account are true, but others are exaggerated or false.

Some parents were upset that the only sources of the information they were getting about what was happening were their children and the News-Topic. You can see on Facebook where comments and discussions by and among parents followed our posts about the lockdowns. Some feel strongly that the school system has an obligation to call parents when there is any kind of lockdown.

Thirty years ago, that wouldn’t even have been thinkable.

Now the technology allows it, but it may not be operationally feasible, as Superintendent Steve Stone explained to Menz on Friday: “We have to have them understand that we can’t have hundreds of people flock to the schools.”

But he suggested school officials will review the day’s events and the school system’s policy.

“Do we need to revisit it? Maybe. There’s a lesson to be learned from here,” he said.

“Everything worked, though. … Parents should be looking at the positive. The system worked. We made sure those kids were safe, and to me, that’s the big story, that the system worked.”

That’s a story, all right.

But to me the big story is how ever-more-portable instant-communications technology means officials need to plan for the certainty of instantaneous leaks — of both correct and incorrect information — and the blowback they will create.