There was a moment of high drama at the Wisconsin Avenue campus of Sidwell Friends School last Thursday when students, including President Obama’s daughters, were evacuated to an outdoor sports field after the administration office received a “suspicious call.” After a Secret Service investigation, it was determined there was no risk to students, and classes eventually resumed. This week, however, school head Tom Farquhar is trying to explain what happened. In a message to parents, he said, “Although the threat was not specific, the nature of the call led us to evacuate all of our buildings. While the evacuation was underway, the source of the call was verified, and the caller was questioned by law enforcement.”
Farquhar refers to the school’s “comprehensive crisis plan” as being key to getting the students evacuated quickly. “The importance of quiet during the incident was understood, and everyone cooperated beautifully.” Nonetheless, he said a routine internal review is being conducted on “how the situation was handled.” The system used is called AlertNow.
The Farquhar e-mail was sent to The Washingtonian by a Sidwell Friends parent.
One element Farquhar cited was the difficulty caused by the “rapidly changing nature of the details we were receiving.” He said this made it difficult for the school to update parents while the episode was happening. He said that if the situation had deteriorated to a point where students needed to be evacuated from the campus entirely, they “would certainly have been informed.” He referred to “specific locations” that have been designated nearby for just such an evacuation.
Earlier, the school referred any additional questions to the Secret Service, who declined to comment.