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Schools, rescuers hold drill

June 02, 2005|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

North Hagerstown High School, Northern Middle School and Fountaindale Elementary School were on fake modified lockdown for two hours Wednesday morning after a staged report came in that a train derailed and was emitting an unknown vapor - later identified as hydrogen fluoride - that can cause skin and eye irritation, North Hagerstown Principal Robert T. "Bo" Myers said.

Training for such scenarios is required under the Homeland Security Act, Myers said.

On Wednesday morning, Myers sat in a conference room that served as the school's command center and juggled phone calls, walkie-talkie conversations and notes that reported different scenarios.

Washington County Sheriff's Office Deputy 1st Class Jim Holsinger sat at the opposite end of the table from Myers watching the clock. He handed the principal notes every so often that threw wrenches into the unfolding situation.

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The intercom system went down, there was a fire in a janitor's closet, and six students were hungry and needed food, notes passed to Myers said.

"How could they be hungry, they just ate?" Myers said with a laugh after the note, passed around lunchtime, reporting the hungry students. A teacher was dispatched to get food for the students although under a real modified lockdown situation, they could get the food themselves, he said.

Classes were held on a normal schedule during the drill.

Holsinger periodically played a few television broadcasts, reported by a school system public information officer, that were intended to simulate news bulletins that informed school officials of the wreck's cleanup and how much longer the vapors would exist.

Myers asked an assistant principal to draft a letter explaining the scenario to parents and later faxed that letter through to a School Board-based command center for approval.

On speaker phone, Myers asked one of those manning the School Board command center if they got the fax.

"Are you really sending it?" the command center official said.

"Everything's real, what are you talking about?" Myers said and smiled.

Holsinger said members of his department, Hagerstown Police Department, Maryland State Police, Homeland Security and Washington County emergency crews were involved in the drill.

"It's extremely important to see the faces of the people who are going to assist you in a crisis," Myers said. "We should know each other before we handle the real thing."

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