A series of false fire alarms is plaguing Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and triggering the awful memories of Valentine’s Day for students and staff.
The Parkland school has had one code red (active shooter) drill, two fire drills and five false alarms since school began on Aug. 15, according to officials at Broward County Schools. Three of the false alarms were caused by students pulling the fire alarm.
Students and parents have been active on social media platforms talking about how upset they are by the alarms.
“Fire alarms have kind of been weaponized to figure out how to kill more people, and we’re very aware of that,” said teacher Stewart Rabin, who has spent eight years directing the school’s orchestra and teaching guitar.
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Rabin said he waits 10 or 15 seconds after hearing the alarm to see what is going on, rather than immediately leaving the building. He was on campus on Feb. 14 when a former student killed 17 and wounded 17 more — and the fire alarm went off then.
“I went out for that fire alarm, by the way,” Rabin said.
On Wednesday the fire alarms sounded due to a faulty wire in one of the pull stations, according to an email sent by Principal Ty Thompson. On Tuesday, a student pulled the alarm. The student was not identified.
“Today Broward Schools has worked in collaboration with the Coral Springs-Parkland Fire Department to resolve fire alarms issues at MSD,” Superintendent Robert Runcie tweeted Wednesday. “We understand the impact and seriousness of this and are assigning fire officials to MSD to monitor fire alarm panels and immediately respond to any incidents.”
The school is expected to do 10 code red drills and 10 fire drills during the school year, according to a Tuesday email to parents from Thompson, in which he called the required number of drills excessive. A Florida statute requires schools to conduct drills for active shooter and hostage situations at least as often as other emergency drills.
“It is extremely unfortunate that we have had so many alarms,” Thompson wrote. “Every time that alarm goes off, I am pained at having to get on the PA [public address system] to give reassurances.”
Stoneman Douglas is supposed to receive a new fire system within the next year. The approximately $900,000 system will come from the $800 million capital improvement program for Broward County public schools, commonly known as the SMART bond.
The fire chiefs of the Coral Springs-Parkland Fire Department and Broward School District have agreed to contact the state fire marshal and department of education to request flexibility in conducting fire drills at Stoneman Douglas, according to Thompson’s email.
The fire alarms can be triggering for the Stoneman Douglas community following the shooting, said Dr. Nicole Mavrides, director of the child psychiatry program at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine and a Stoneman Douglas graduate.
“They’re hearing the same sound that brought them all into the hallway where the shooting really started taking place,” Dr. Mavrides said. “It can really bring out symptoms of post-traumatic stress.”
Those symptoms can include heart palpitations, jumpiness, anxiety, nightmares, difficulty sleeping or flashbacks, meaning individuals feel like they are back in the moment of the traumatic event and may not be able to tell that it isn’t happening. Individuals may experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress even if they did not previously.
“For people who really truly have PTSD, this could be making a setback for their treatment,” Mavrides added.
Mavrides recommends that students feeling triggered speak with their families about getting professional help from a psychologist or psychiatrist; students can ask their pediatrician for a referral. When deciding whether to seek professional help, families should watch for warning signs like their children crying, calling their parents or becoming hysterical in response to triggers like fire alarms.
Clinicians and therapists are available to students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ on-campus wellness center.
The group Professionals United for Parkland offers online resources and free therapy sessions to individuals directly affected by the school shooting, though Mavrides advises individuals to first research the providers’ certifications. She also recommends the meditation apps Headspace and 10% Happier to help traumatized individuals cope when they feel overwhelmed.
Miami Herald education reporter Colleen Wright contributed to this report.