False alarms highlight hypervigilance in Utah schools

SALT LAKE CITY — A pair of schools in Midvale were forced to shelter in place Thursday after an employee reported what she believed was the sound of gunshots nearby.

“She brought all of the kids in from the playground, reported it to the office, and the office then reported it to police who started their investigation,” said Jeff Haney, a spokesperson for the Canyons School District.

After about 30 minutes, police determined there was not an imminent threat.

“In this day and age, concerns are very much heightened,” Haney said.

This is the second false alarm in as many days in Salt Lake County.

Wednesday, four schools in the Granite School District sheltered in place after a similar report of gunshots.

“We have become vigilant in a culture that has these things happening over and over again,” said Dr. Andrew Smith, a psychologist at University of Utah Health. “It’s got people thinking about why this is happening seemingly more frequently.”

Dr. Smith has spent 12 years studying the effects of stress and trauma. He believes recent tragedies at schools across the nation have changed how people react to the smallest of potential threats.

“For educators, they really want to keep their students safe,” Smith said. “The idea that safety is at risk, the idea that safety could be at risk — likely produces some hypervigilance. It’s adaptive in the sense that it allows us to prepare for potentially bad things but it also creates distress and anxiety.

With each tragedy that takes place, no matter the location, caution is now a necessity.

“One of the messages we want to send, very clearly, is the kids are safe,” Haney said. They were safe throughout the entire incident and they are safe while they are at school.”

The extra precautions, help reassure students they are protected while on campus.

“They understand that we are doing it to keep them safe,” Haney said.

Anyone who is struggling with stress or anxiety is encouraged to seek help from a mental health professional.

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