Bomb scare breakdown Anne Arundel County: Incident underscores need to get search dogs into schools quickly.

April 14, 1997

PHONING IN a warning that a bomb is about to go off in a school is not to be taken lightly. The administration of Arundel High School treated last Thursday's bomb threat with the seriousness it deserved. But once the 2,000 students were evacuated from the building, the handling of the situation deteriorated.

The problem started with the late arrival of the bomb-sniffing dogs. Although the threat was phoned in at 10: 10 a.m., the dogs and their handlers were not summoned until 10: 54. A dog and handler from the sheriff's office arrived at 11: 30. At 11: 55, the county police arrived with their dogs. The school was searched and declared secure at 12: 43 p.m., about 2 1/2 hours after the threat was phoned in.

In the meantime, students, teachers and other school personnel had been standing outside in the unseasonably chilly weather without coats. Worried that students, some dressed only in gym shorts and T-shirts, were getting chilled, the administration decided to dismiss school for the day at 11: 30 a.m.

Many of the students left their backpacks, keys and other possessions in the school. Because the building hadn't been searched, none of the students could retrieve their belongings.

Compounding the problem was that the school buses the students normally use were transporting kindergartners at that time. Other buses were called in, but many of the drivers were unfamiliar with the routes. Confusion ensued.

In the two previous bomb scares directed at county schools this year, the response was swift enough so that students were able to return to class. No one can satisfactorily explain the delay in getting search teams to Arundel High.

A lack of trained bomb-sniffing dogs is not the problem. In addition to the six county police dogs, the sheriff's department, Annapolis police and state police also have dogs and handlers that can be called upon.

Since public institutions are typically targets of such threats, each county school should have a plan that gets search dogs to it without delay. The dogs should be called in as soon as fire and police departments are notified. Making sure that search dogs canvas the building as quickly as possible would minimize the amount of disruption to the school.

Pub Date: 4/14/97

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