TERROR HITS MONA VALE !!!
That is the firm message Mona Vale Public School (MVPS) principal Greg Jones has for the local community, as he continues to deal with violent threats coming from an unknown source.
Dozens of schools across Australia have been plagued by these calls, intending to strike fear within the community, and Mona Vale Pubic was one of the first to receive the chilling electronic voice message.
Coming through to reception on January 29 at approximately 11am, the call indicated that there was an external threat - so Mr Jones with more than 25 years experience as a principal remained calm and directed the staff to carry out their training.
“The first (message) had indicated that (the terrorists) were coming to the school and so I made the decision to ‘lock-down lock out'. Mr Jones tells Peninsula Living.
“The difference is if the threat is external coming to the school, we ‘lock-down lock-out' to stop the threat coming in. If the threat has indicated that it is already within the site we make a judgement call to either lock down which closes all rooms, which would be if there is a gunman within the school or if there's a device we evacuate.
“So we listen very carefully to the call that is coming in, we analyse what has been said as an executive team and make a decision based on that."
Since then, MVPS has received a further two calls - the second on February 3 indicated that there was a device on site, so the children were evacuated to Pittwater RSL, and the third on February 5, was another external threat.
The lock downs and evacuations were seamless and Mr Jones puts this down to the training and courage of his staff.
“They have been amazing. We had teachers fearlessly making their way down to the perimeter gates to lock them while there was a potential threat coming, and everyone just fell back on their training, they would've all been nervous but they didn't show it and kept all the kids calm."
MVPS mother Tanya Van Der Wall, who is on the P&C executive committee, says the whole ordeal has been made easier by the actions of the staff.
“I think the way the school has handled it has been exemplary,” she tells Peninsula Living.
The staff I've spoken to say ‘We are just doing our job, we’re doing the process we've been taught but it's actually been fabulous the way that they've managed the process and kept the kids calm.
“The lock down training happens four times a year, so the kids know what to do when it happens, they know they need to be calm and listen to their teacher and wait for instructions. And the experience of my two children (Years 5 and 2) was very good, it was exactly to the process, and I know a lot of other parents have said the same about their children.”
According to Mr Jones, the response from the Northern Beaches police force has also been commendable.
“I might say that from the time I rang Northern Beaches Local Area Command at Dee Why there were two highway patrol cars here within five minutes on all three occasions and then the rest of the team came in very quickly - it was a wonderful response and the police are to be congratulated on the way they’ve managed the situation,” he says.
Ms Van Der Wall reiterated this, saying the police are not underestimating the gravity of the situation.
"The other thing the families feel strongly about from the conversations I’ve had, is not only is the school managing it so well and taking it so seriously - I mean throughout the whole thing Greg has said Well do the same thing every time, we’re not deciding whether this one's a real one or not every single time we do the same thing and the police have done the same - they are here every time taking it seriously,” she says.
"It was great on Friday - [the threat) happened at lunch time and went into the afternoon so the police were here all afternoon and at pick up they were at every gate and the kids were going up to the police and saying 'Thanks for keeping us safe', giving them high-fives and saying 'I hope you find out what's happening'."
Mr Jones nods in agreement.
"In fact for the second one on Wednesday and on Friday the local area commander turned up, that's pretty impressive," he adds.
"We're mindful that although we hope it's a hoax, we take the view that every time we get the phone call, it's real because irrespective of whether it's a hoax or not, it's a coordinated strategy across a number of continents to make us feel uncomfortable for whatever reason.”
Despite none of the threats being carried out, Mr Jones admits they are starting to wear on the staff and wider community.
“There hasn't been any hysteria or any panic within the community but it would be fair to say after three [calls] that the community is starting now to become concerned as you would!” he says.
“And I'd have to say even my own staff here are starting to feel the tension, they're not frightened because the likelihood is extraordinarily small that Mona vale would be a target but living in that level of tension, and with responsibility for 30 students and 1100 in the school, is starting to psychologically begin to nibble at the edges of our community and our staff.”
Easing the torment of the parents, particularly on the day of that first call was the schools app.
“We are very fortunate in that last two years, the P&C and the school have been working closely to get a school app on board,” Ms Van Der Wall explains.
“So we've got an app that we can all download to our devices and it sends out push notifications and this was the ideal example of how the push notifications work perfectly because the school was able to send us a message within about 20 minutes of it all happening.
“It basically said the school is in lock down and everyone is safe. And while it was a bit nerve wracking at first to receive the message the fact that we all got the message was very reassuring.”
Mr Jones says controlling things at their end has been incredibly important.
"In these times communication is critical and we realise that with social media it would've got out very quickly so we had to control the information flow," he says.
"Interestingly a colleague said to me that within an hour, a friend in Canada was watching it on an Internet news cable channel - so that's how quick it is, some of our parents wouldn't have even been alerted, yet it was being streamed on an international news network."
Encouragingly, while Peninsula Living is visiting MVPS, the students are running amok, seemingly without a care in the world. It is a credit to the incredible work of Mr Jones, his staff and the parents.