In a news story earlier this week, an alum group from Riverside High School revealed that the school hasn't had a working fire alarm system and PA system since at least November of last year. We are just six months past the Cielo Vista Walmart mass shooting and a couple of weeks past three people approaching El Paso High School, one of whom was armed with a BB gun. If a school doesn't have a PA system, how can they notify teachers to lock down a classroom?

I posed questions to the El Paso Fire Department about the fire alarm system. You can read their answers about what the department does when a school doesn't have a fire alarm by clicking here.

I also posed some questions to the Ysleta Independent School District on Tuesday. On Wednesday,
Patricia Ayala, YISD's Chief Communications Officer, sent me these answers:

1. Why has it taken since November 2019 to get the alarm systems in place?
After the fire alarm’s failure was identified in November, YISD immediately took actions on two related paths. One, on November 18, 2019, YISD approved purchasing the design and installation of a completely new fire alarm system. Two, YISD immediately began working with the Fire Marshall to implement appropriate interim procedures.

2. Is YISD working with the City to get the systems in place? Is there a problem with the City that is causing the delay?
The YISD Maintenance & Operations Department has been working with City Planning & Inspections and a licensed contractor to design, permit, and install a new system. The new system’s design is complete and being reviewed by the City. With the City's permission certain initial work is underway. It will take approximately 225 days to complete the installation of the new system throughout the campus.

3. A fire allegedly happened at RHS in one of the restrooms. What protocols are in place, other than someone calling 9-1-1 in case of a fire? If the PA system isn't operational, how would students and staff be notified of a fire?
When the fire panel is down for any period exceeding four hours or other similar interruption of the fire suppression system, our Emergency Operations department actively works with the El Paso Fire Marshall’s office and the campus to implement a Fire Watch. During a Fire Watch, the school posts personnel in hallways and large occupancy areas (such as cafeteria and gym) to watch for fires. School personnel are trained on the Fire Watch process, are provided tour logs and signs, and are supported throughout the process. A temporary fire panel was installed at Riverside High School during the first week of February, activating the current fire alarm system for the main building. While a fire panel may have a PA, the audible fire signal and flashing strobe devices mounted throughout the school is the required standard for evacuation during a fire event. The PA for RHS is integrated into our VOIP phone system. YISD Emergency Operations will continue to work with the El Paso Fire Marshall and monitor the campus until the permanent new system is fully operational.

4. Does the TEA know that there are no operational safety systems in RHS? Is it legal to continue to have the school open?
Since the system failure was identified in November 2019, RHS has had Fire Watch procedures, as approved by the El Paso Fire Marshall. There was no requirement to notify TEA of this situation.

I have reached out to the TEA about the requirements for fire alarms in our schools. As soon as I get their answers, I'll publish them.