Evacuating the schools

Anne Arundel: Standard procedure is needed in cases such as suspected gas leak at Crofton Middle.

February 02, 1999

LAST WEEK'S confused evacuation at Crofton Middle School should never be repeated. When the potential exists for a real hazard or emergency -- in this case a gas leak -- administrators and teachers need to clear buildings as quickly and safely as possible. The Anne Arundel County school system and EMS/Fire/Rescue department have begun investigating the incident and most likely will offer constructive suggestions to ensure such confusion doesn't recur.

When a strange odor was detected near the gymnasium a week ago, Principal Richard Berzinski immediately notified the proper authorities. His secretaries and assistants called BGE. The staff also called 911 to alert county emergency dispatchers and the school's security firm that fire alarms would be pulled. All these actions were done by the book.

The problem seems to center on the failure to effectively clear the students. The fire alarm system was not activated. Instead, the school public address system was used to inform students to evacuate and take their coats. For unexplained reasons, fire crews found children in some classrooms.

Contrary to initial reports, school alarms worked. However, blinking lights used to notify deaf persons that a fire alarm is sounding did not function properly. That has been corrected, but a review of the first evacuation continues.

Ironically, when gas was detected again that day, fire alarms were used and the school was evacuated without incident. Crofton Middle had to be evacuated a third time for the same problem Friday, and the students again exited quickly. Officials are still examining the source of the leak.

All schools need to review their evacuation plans and should be able to execute them automatically. Whether it is a suspected gas leak, bomb scare or fire, adults and children must leave facilities with drill-like precision and without hesitation.

Pub Date: 2/02/99

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