In the event of a school incident, the first place to go is your local police agency's Twitter feed

By Joe Vargas

Last month, a friend of mine was at work when she received a text message from her son:

“The school is on lockdown. There’s a guy with a gun on campus and the police are searching for him.”

Her heart raced. Fighting the overwhelming urge to drive straight to the school, she tried to make some sense of what was going on.

She questioned him: “So how do you know there’s a guy with a gun?”

The reply: “My friend knows someone whose dad is a cop who told him that’s what’s going on.”

Of course, now she was close to complete panic.

So how do you get accurate and timely information when something like this happens?

Calling the school might work, but if you are just one of hundreds of parents calling, you might not get through. The school may send out a notification but will it be quick enough to calm frazzled nerves?

Putting out messages during significant events on Twitter is now a standard practice for many law enforcement agencies.

On April 10, the estranged husband of a special education teacher came onto the San Bernardino North Park Elementary campus and shot his wife and two students.

In the chaos that followed, hundreds of parents were trying to get accurate information. The go-to source for accurate and timely information was the Twitter feed of the San Bernardino Police Department.

Minutes after the shooting, Chief Jarrod Burguan tweeted that officers were responding to the campus. As soon as the situation was stabilized, he tweeted there was no further threat. The same messaging was carried on the department’s Facebook page.

On April 26, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, in an abundance of caution, locked down four campuses in Mission Viejo as deputies searched for a possible wanted subject.

The OCSD put updated information on its Twitter feed as deputies searched the area.

“When a significant incident happens, I am on Twitter updating information as quickly as I can responsibly do so. On a developing incident, that is the best place for parents to go and get the latest information on the situation,” said OCSD spokesperson Lt. Lane Lagaret.

He added: “When an incident occurs, especially one that involves our local schools and our children, we understand parents’ (need) for information as quickly as possible. But in a developing situation, there are a lot of moving parts, and we need to ensure the information we push out to the public is accurate. Rumors have a tendency to spread quickly on social media, which can create a panic in the community. And we want to avoid that.”

The Anaheim Police Department is another Orange County agency that routinely puts out information on school lockdowns or significant responses to school campuses. This includes searches for suspects, bomb threats and the very rare instances when there is criminal activity taking place.

Anaheim Police spokesperson Sgt. Daron Wyatt said: “It’s incumbent on police agencies to put out timely and accurate information. If you don’t, you can lose control of the story.”

With so many students on campus with cell phones, the number of messages being sent to parents can be inaccurate and unnecessarily cause fear and anxiety.

Added Wyatt: “It’s not just important for the parents of kids in school but for all residents to be monitoring their local police department’s social media feeds.”

As for my friend, whose child was locked on campus with a possible gunman, the entire incident was the result of a domestic disturbance at a residence close to the campus. There never was a gunman.

It’s prudent for every resident to be following his or her local police department’s social media pages — even more so if you have school-age children.

Even if you don’t regularly use social media, I suggest you start by having your local law enforcement agency in your feeds. The following are the Twitter accounts for Orange County agencies:

Aliso Vijeo @OCSD
Anaheim @AnaheimPD
Brea @BreaPD
Costa Mesa @CostaMesaPD
Cypress @Cypress_PD_PIO
Dana Point @OCSD
Fullerton @FPDPIO
Garden Grove @GardenGrovePD
Huntington Beach @HBPD_PIO
Irvine @IrvinePolice
La Habra @LaHabraPD
Laguna Beach @LagunaBeachPD
Laguna Hills @OCSD
Laguna Niguel @OCSD
Laguna Woods @OCSD
Lake Forest @OCSD
Los Alamitos @LosAlPD
Mission Vijeo @OCSD
Newport Beach @NewportBeachPD
Orange @OrangePolice
Placentia @placentiapolice
Rancho Santa Margarita @OCSD
San Clemente @OCSD
San Juan Capistrano @OCSD
Santa Ana @SantaAnaPD
Seal Beach @SealBeachPolice
Stanton @OCSD
Tustin @TustinPolice
Villa Park @OCSD
Westminster @WestminsiterPDCA
Yorba Lina @OCSD

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com.