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Tri-State school safety

Measures may be different , but each school has the same goal: ensuring the security of its students

Measures may be different , but each school has the same goal: ensuring the security of its students

December 23, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

When the sniper attacks hit the Washington, D.C., suburbs on the morning of Oct. 3, Frederick County, Md., Public Schools locked down schools.

The school system locked down again after a student was shot in Bowie, Md., on Oct. 7 and again when a general threat was issued against children, Associate Schools Superintendent Dan Cunningham said.

"During that sniper situation there were daily conference calls amongst all the superintendents in the Washington Area Council of Governments," Cunningham said.

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When news broke quickly of shootings in neighboring school districts, bulletins went out so school system officials could decide whether to lock down their schools, he said.

Tri-State area school officials said they continually review and update school security measures, often in the wake of national news events such as the Columbine High School shooting rampage in April 1999, Sept. 11, 2001,'s terrorist attacks and the sniper attacks.

"We've been very, very fortunate to have a limited amount of security issues here in Washington County," said Dennis McGee, the Washington County Board of Education's director of facilities management. McGee is one of several School Board officials overseeing security. The School Board is considering hiring a safety and security specialist.

After the sniper attacks, school officials with Washington County; Berkeley County, W.Va.; Jefferson County, W.Va.; Frederick County, Va.; and Winchester, Va., met to establish a communication system between the school systems in the event of a security concern along the Interstate 81 corridor. The meeting, called by Berkeley County school officials, included local law enforcement.

Exchanging contact names and phone numbers made sense since the school systems share the I-81 boundary, said George Michael, director of pupil services for Berkeley County schools.

"Now we're just too close to say we're our own little entity and the heck with everybody else," Michael said.

Martha Roulette, director of student services for Washington County, said the school systems shared emergency plans and she shared the county's red book or School Activation For Emergencies program with the other school systems.

Berkeley County calls it an Emergency Procedures Booklet, in Frederick County, Md., it's a crisis manual and in Chambersburg, Pa., it's called "The First 30 Minutes."

Each book contains the school system's procedures for various emergency situations.

They can include what to do in the event of a bomb threat, a student suspected of having a weapon, a hostage situation, an intruder in the school, a fire, a utility problem, hazardous weather, a rape, a student or staff member's death, a drug overdose, a shooting and many other scenarios.

Usually the principals have the entire manual while teachers have a quick reference guide, school officials said.

Last year, Washington County updated their procedures for suspicious parcels after the anthrax incidents in the Washington, D.C., region, McGee said.

Chambersburg Area Middle School Assistant Principal Tim Bowers is helping develop a more comprehensive, step-by-step crisis manual for the middle school that he said he hopes will be used as a template for other schools.

With the guide, teachers won't have to "sit there and decide how to react," Bowers said.

A few local school systems have security officers or school resource officers in select schools that could go to another school in the district if needed, officials said. Those school systems include Berkeley County, Chambersburg, and Frederick County, Md.

Some school systems have video cameras in schools or on school buses to help watch for intruders and make sure there are no problems with students, officials said. Washington County and Frederick County have cameras in some schools and buses, while Berkeley County has them in the high schools.

To easily identify intruders, several school systems have picture identification cards worn by staff and some schools even have students wear them.

Doors to schools are kept locked from the outside except for entry near the school office where visitors can pick up a visitor badge.

School systems have evacuation plans for each school with roll call lists to check for every student, officials said.

Incidents at schools across the nation cause local school officials to learn more about security all the time, Cunningham said.

"The scary part of this issue is you face things often you haven't had to face before," Cunningham said.

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