ANNAPOLIS -- State officials are scrambling to turn a vacant Anne Arundel County school building into a potential repatriation center to aid U.S. civilians fleeing from the Middle East should the war expand beyond Iraq and Kuwait.
U.S. citizens could wind up evacuating the region hurriedly and mayneed help when they return to this country, said Helen Szablya, spokeswoman for the state's Department of Human Resources, which is coordinating the effort in Maryland.
The repatriation center would be operated from the former Lindale Junior High School in Ferndale. Vacant for the past two years, the school is being renovated and converted into the future North County High School.
Last September, a similar repatriation facility was set up in a hangar at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where more than 600 refugees from Kuwait arrived in three planeloads.
State officials were told in August to be prepared for the estimated 35,000 Americans living in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt should war break out, Ms. Szablya said.
The BWI airport and Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County are two of "seven to 10" airports along the East Coast that might be used to help civilian evacuees, said Mark D. Friedman, who is the project's director at the Department of Human Resources.
The hangar at BWI was judged too small and the potential security problem was considered too great to continue to use that facility.
Representatives of the Department of Human Resources, the state's Emergency Management and Civil Defense Agency and BWI are involved in the effort under the guidance of the federal Department of Health and Human Resources.
As with the arrival of the Kuwaiti refugees, state and federal employees and volunteers would be given 11 hours' notice to assemble at the repatriation center before the first plane load arrived, according to Ms. Szablya.
Workers would be able to offer evacuees help with such things as travel arrangements, finances and family counseling and to offer them a hot meal.
Maryland officials insist that they have no indication that their services will be needed but that they must be prepared for the worst possible case, a flood of traumatized refugees.