Shootings put focus on safety

Local schools review plans to help students in case of emergency

Balto. County takes lead

Officials offer solace to parents, students after Colorado deaths

April 22, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Principals at each Carroll County school are refining crisis-intervention plans for faculty and students in case violence erupts in their buildings, as happened Tuesday near Denver, where two classmates went on a bloody shooting spree, killing 13 and wounding 23 before killing themselves.

Prevention and preparation are the keys to dealing with the sort of tragedy school officials in Colorado suddenly faced, Lawrence E. Faries, security coordinator for the Carroll school system, said yesterday.

Faries held training workshops for county school administrators and staff in February and March, raising awareness and imparting practical ideas for what to do in crises such as when hostages were taken or someone is barricaded inside.

"All of our schools were doing a good job of planning for emergencies, such as what needs to be done if a tornado or hurricane strikes," Faries said. "We asked them to think beyond disasters and plan what to do if a bomb went off, or someone opened fire in the building."

Each principal was directed to develop and implement a crisis-intervention plan and submit a copy to Faries by Sept. 1.

"In truth, many of the ideas we suggested were adopted from what Wayne Thibeault, principal at General John Stricker Middle School in Baltimore County, put in place at his school about three years ago," Faries said.

Baltimore County's "Emergency Crisis Management Plan" was developed after a tornado touched down in Dundalk and had administrators wondering what they would have done had the school been hit.

That five-point plan includes training for all new administrators, implementing a crisis plan at each school, having supervisory support from area-wide critical incident teams, holding semi-annual drills and reviewing the plan annually.

In Baltimore County, the drills are called "code red" or lock-down drills. From the moment "code red" is declared, every staff member in a school has an assigned task, such as locking a specific door, calling authorities or monitoring a hallway. And everyone assigned a task has a backup.

"Within three minutes, as building administrator, I know precisely where everyone is, where the problem is and what it is," said Thibeault.

The goal in a crisis is to "minimize carnage and that cannot be done effectively amid chaos," he said. "That's why practice drills are so important."

Faries said Carroll schools will begin staging semi-annual crisis drills next year.

Officials at Taneytown Elementary long have had emergency plans in effect, said Assistant Principal Patti Heacock. While those plans covered fire, natural disasters and bomb threats and included an emergency evacuation plan, they treated crises in summary fashion only, she said.

"Our discipline committee has sought input from all teachers, administrative staff, custodial and cafeteria workers," she said. "We will sit down before the end of the school year and begin to develop a detailed plan, spelling out what each person should do in such a crisis."

Heacock noted that the discipline committee already has realized that any detailed plan will require review more often than annually.

"Changes in staff and circumstances will dictate more frequent review so everyone will know his or her precise responsibility," she said.

Equally important, said Faries, are preventive measures aimed at heading off potential problems.

The two student gunmen at the Colorado high school allegedly were members of an anti-social clique known as the Trench Coat Mafia.

Faries said school officials are aware of several groups of students who might loosely be called gangs. "They definitely are not gangs like those that roam streets in the big city," he said. "We are aware and monitor them."

Carroll doesn't have an "epidemic" of gangs by any means, said Faries, noting that a small number of extreme "right-wing types -- skinheads, Aryan, neo-Nazi, white supremacists" -- do exist.

Freedom-of-speech issues prevent severe limitations being put on these groups, he said. But they are not to do anything to incite others, such as waving a Confederate flag, he said.

Michael Bell, principal at Westminster Middle School, said a half-dozen parents called early yesterday, saying their children were afraid to come to school.

They -- students and parents -- were seeking reassurance that school would be a haven, Bell said.

Bell's school held a crisis drill in the fall.

"We've tightened security, requiring all visitors to first report to the office, where they are given a visitor's badge," he said.

If staff members see a stranger without a visitor's badge in the hall, they will challenge that person in a friendly way to determine why they are in the building, Bell said.

"We're always looking for ideas to improve school safety," said Bell, noting that he returned from last weekend's conference of the Maryland Association of Secondary Schools Principals at Rocky Gap with ideas to share with his school's crisis team.

Bell said he issued a statement to his students, telling them what happened in Colorado, asking them to talk to their parents about it and urging them to tell any adult if they become aware of something that threatens the security of their school.

"We can do a lot to provide a safe environment at school, but we need help," he said.

Pub Date: 4/22/99

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