Schools changing emergency plans

Posted: Wednesday, January 09, 2002

LEWIS CENTER, Ohio -- Administrators in the Olentangy school district spent the summer debating whether to require lockdown drills in their nine schools. The Sept. 11 attacks helped them make up their minds.

The drills are now as regular as test runs for fires or tornadoes, with teachers keeping students in secured classrooms with the shades drawn.

''We were checking our existing plan to see if we were prepared if, God forbid, something were to happen,'' school Superintendent William Reimer said. ''Then Sept. 11 happened and it reinforced the need to be as prepared as we can.''

Around the country, schools are adopting new safety measures and adjusting emergency plans that were designed primarily to deal with natural disasters or student violence like the 1999 Columbine massacre.

School officials in Buffalo, N.Y., required 5,000 people attending a high school football game on Thanksgiving to walk through metal detectors, a procedure that will remain in place indefinitely for major events.

''We've put the screws down a little bit,'' said Bill Jackson, security and safety director for the Buffalo school system.

In October, schools in Fraser, Mich., started keeping exterior doors locked instead of letting visitors use the front door and expecting them to stop at the office. An adult door monitor admits visitors.

''It was supposed to be a temporary thing, but what happened was the community appreciated it and everyone felt more comfortable with it,'' said Tom Jager, principal of Fraser's Eisenhower Elementary School.

State education departments, including those in Ohio, New York and Kentucky, have encouraged schools to review their crisis plans.

The Center for School Safety, based in Kentucky, this month plans to begin revamping model emergency plans, which most districts follow, to include instructions bioterrorism, chemical weapons and mass infections.

''School violence like Columbine is terrorism but only on a local level. Now we have to address a different kind of terrorism,'' said Jon Akers, center director.

The 137,000-student Mont-gomery County, Md., school system began offering three-hour crisis training sessions last fall for administrators, teachers and other staff members.

They are taught how to assess the severity of bomb threats, understand emergency codes and run evacuation drills. They are put through simulations of emergencies.

''Within a 10-minute span, we have them make some critical decisions about what to do. It's very real,'' Ed Clarke, district director of safety and security.

Curt Lavarello, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers in Boynton Beach, Fla., said more schools are working with police and fire departments. Some are looking into whether there is a high-risk target nearby, such as a historic landmark, military installation or nuclear plant.

Other districts, like Olentangy, are adding to their crisis plans mail-handling suggestions, such as opening packages in an isolated areas while wearing gloves.

Mallory Williamson, an 18-year-old senior at Olentangy High, said the lockdown drills were comforting. ''It made you feel really good because in case something did happen you know that everyone is paying attention and that we're ready,'' she said.

Diane Pollock said she feels safe sending her son, Matt, 11, to the district's Alum Creek Elementary School because she knows the school system has done everything it can.

''After 9-11, my motherly instinct was that I want to keep Matt home and just hug him,'' she said. ''But the kids feel safe at school, and that's because schools are more aware and have become more prepared.''


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