Parents unsettled over bomb threat protocol

Parents wait as student names are called out for pick up. / Jessica Fairley

After Thursday's bomb threat in the Tift County School System, many parents are concerned about the protocol officials use when something like this happens.

Some parents claim the evacuation process was unorganized.

Stephanie Mack says when she received notice that a bomb threat had occurred in the school system, she was told to check the internet to find out where her child would be placed.

"I asked what if you don't have internet. They said well just go riding until you find your child," said Stephanie Mack, a concerned parent.

When she finally found the location of daughter, Mack says she ran into another round of hassles.

"When you get there, they don't tell you exactly what line to get in. You just got to go get in a line and then when you get to the gate. Your child is over there. So I had to go all the way to the back of the line," Mack.

Another parent says, for him, the lines weren't the problem. He wants to know why one school took the children back into the building after the bomb threat.

"The kids should have been out somewhere and their parents should have picked their kids up like the other schools did. The other schools had their kids in a safe area where the parents could come in and they were asking for the proper I.D. to make sure it was the right parent. This school didn't do this here," said Billy Scott.

He claims parents stood outside of J.T. Reddick Middle School for hours, while school officials released the students one by one.

"What if it was a bomb? All of us would be gone in here. And if it was a threat or somebody life was a threat, it's too late because everybody would have to check out one at a time," said Scott.

Tift County school officials released a statement about the evacuation and student release saying, "Our school system and all support agencies are already reviewing the process for what worked, what could be improved, and what changes should be considered for future incidents of this magnitude."

See below to read the full statement from Tift County School Superintendent Patrick Atwater.

"The Tift County Public School System initiated a system wide emergency evacuation today, February 28, 2013. The order to evacuate was given by me, Superintendent, after receiving information from our law enforcement agencies of a bomb threat that included all of our schools. I am sure by now everyone has heard about the incident through one form of communication or another. I am also sure, depending on the circumstances surrounding each individual school and its student body, there are many different versions and opinions of what occurred and how it was addressed (i.e. Eighth Street was delayed in dismissing students to parents at the request of the Sheriff's Department due to the ongoing criminal investigation).

Let me begin by stating it is sad we must prepare ourselves for incidents such as this; with prepare being the key word. In my 23 years as an employee and 12 years as a student, I can honestly say that in my 35 years of experience with Tift County Public Schools, we have never experienced an event like we experienced today. Our system routinely practices fire drills, tornado drills, intruder drills, and most importantly emergency evacuation drills. Each school has a plan for each of these situations along with many other issues we must concern ourselves with as it relates to student safety.

Today's incident was not a drill, it was a real threat not to be taken lightly, confirmed through 911 and relayed to our school system. Unlike our drills which are practiced in isolation by individual schools, today's incident required the complete evacuation of 8000 students ranging in age from 3-21. This is not an easy task, nor was it taken lightly. As Superintendent I was proud of the efforts made by our staff to safely and orderly evacuate and in most cases dismiss students from an offsite location. In addition to our staff efforts to ensure safe evacuation, I can't begin to explain the support we received from all law enforcement agencies in Tift County. Our Sheriff's and Police Departments, State Patrol, EMA, 911, County and City Managers, were absolutely on top of the situation from the beginning.

As with any situation of this magnitude, that can't be practiced on a large scale, we were first pleased to get our students out and dismissed safely. It will now provide us insight into areas that without the ability to have real-time practice, may have not been considered. Our school system and all area support agencies are already reviewing the process for what worked, what could be improved, and what changes should be considered for future incidents of this magnitude. This community's patience and understanding would be greatly appreciated during this process.

I would like to capitalize on this opportunity and encourage all parents that did not receive any of our phone calls today to contact your child's school immediately and ask them to verify your personal information. Included in the personal information should be an undated list of who can pick up your child. Many people were turned away at school today because they were not included on a parent pick up list. Without updated information, it is difficult to contact everyone effectively. Our student information system has many capabilities for parents to access and also allows multiple lines of communication. I also encourage those that have access to Facebook to link our site at!/pages/Tift-County-Public-Schools/148133941864360 for updates such as those received today.

In closing, I would like to thank all faculty, staff, support agencies, and parents for their concern and support in what was a challenging task for all parties involved. A statement concerning the investigation of this incident will be forthcoming from Tift County Sheriffs department."

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