Attention students, this is a lockdown, said a voice over the public address system at Glendale Middle School. Teachers please lock down your classrooms. Students get out of hallways.
Within seconds, halls were emptied and school doors were slammed shut and locked.
Window blinds were pulled down and lights switched off, making some classrooms almost pitch black.
In rooms without blinds, students hid behind large laboratory tables or crammed to the front of the room and out of the sight-line of anyone peering through the glass on classroom doors.
The only sign that people might still be in the building was the abandoned textbooks lying open on desks.
After patrolling the schools empty hallways, principal Brian Bieber called Glendales latest lockdown drill a qualified success.
There was an excellent quick response, but you can still hear noise.
Theres supposed to be complete silence, said Bieber, who later warned students to pipe down during the next lockdown practice.
Such safety simulations are becoming almost as common as fire drills at schools throughout the city.
In the aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre, where two Colorado students killed 12 classmates and one teacher, educators have learned they must be prepared for even the worst eventuality.
We hope well never have any incidents where a real lockdown is necessary, said Bieber. But schools are having to respond because of the changes in society. We are far more aware of the extent of the risks that exist.
Among the potential risks are not only armed intruders, but also chemical spills, gas leaks, fires, explosions, bomb threats, and even student injuries.
Bieber said teachers explain that lockdowns might be necessary for a variety of reasons. We dont want to scare students or make them think were overly worried that intruders might be in our school.
Since a revised emergency policy was passed last month, all York public schools are mandated to conduct four lockdowns and six fire drills a year.
Catholic schools could soon be in a similar position. A districtwide safety procedure manual is in the works and should be ready to be applied by Catholic schools in the spring.
Public school district deputy superintendent Dianne McBeth said every educational facility has basic procedures to follow in case of tornadoes, fires, storms and other disasters.
After the Columbine tragedy and another school shooting in Taber, she added theres also a recognized need to prepare in case of violence.
If theres a need to secure kids, we lock our doors and the students keep quiet.
The revised policy, which received general support from school parental councils, assures that no facility operates in a vacuum, said McBeth.
During a real lockdown, Bieber said teachers would communicate with front office staff by computer while lights are out and doors are locked.
School staff would be confirming whether all students are accounted for and the police and fire department would be contacted.
If evacuation is necessary, Bieber said arrangements would be made to transfer students to a nearby safe facility.
Parents would be apprised of the emergency by a telephone fan-out done by public district office staff. They would be told where to pick up their children and whether they are safe.
As for the students views on lockdowns, Glendale teacher Cindy Matheson believes they are taking these drills in stride.
Her Grade 6 and 7 students often help pull down blinds and tell various classmates where to hide.
The most difficult thing is achieving total quiet. But Grade 7 student Myles Bartlett, believes even this would happen if students thought a lockdown was the real thing. I hope it never happens, but its a good idea to take it seriously.