School to stage mock tragedy to train teachers and police

Anne Arundel drill is latest strategy to heighten security

August 24, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

As teachers get ready for a new school year, Anne Arundel County officials are putting the finishing touches on a grim plan -- a high school emergency drill that will prepare them for handling deadly situations.

Although other schools in the state have had similar drills, Anne Arundel County is the first in the Baltimore area to stage a mock tragedy in which students, teachers and parents will participate. To ensure authentic reactions, the exact nature of the crisis won't be revealed until just before the drill begins.

The drill at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Chesapeake High School in Pasadena is likely to mimic tragedies at schools across the nation, including the slayings at Columbine High School and at an Arkansas middle school.

"Using parents, students and teachers gives us more of a comprehensive sense of what it would be like, how we would react and how everyone around us would react," said county school spokeswoman Jane Doyle.

The drill is a sample of heightened security measures being taken by nervous educators and law enforcement officers. In Baltimore County, more police officers have been assigned to high schools. In Carroll County, principals are preparing emergency plans, which include video-taping school interiors for police. Other districts are preparing school-issued identification cards.

Last week, authorities in Washington and Montgomery counties staged hostage and shooting exercises at high schools to help ensure that police and fire officials are ready to handle potential danger.

"We try to mold all of these scenarios after real incidents," said Lt. Bruce Smith, assistant commander of the state police Hostage Negotiations Team.

State police have held the drills at least once a year in locations such as shopping centers, airports and hospitals, using troopers to play the roles of victims and criminals. But a drill last week at Clear Spring High School in Hagerstown was the first done at a school.

In one scenario, Smith said, Clear Spring's principal and assistant principal played the role of hostages. In another, troopers portrayed teachers who were barricaded in a library.

In Montgomery County, patrol officers received new training in responding to a crisis, said Montgomery County police spokeswoman Ann Evans.

Usually, a patrol officer responding to the initial call for a shooting was required to secure the scene and call for SWAT officers. But because it can take up to an hour for those officers to arrive, patrol officers have been trained to go into a school and, for example, apprehend an armed student.

"Patrol officers practiced at the school in their district to give them a feel for what it would be like at the school they would be responding to," Evans said.

Anne Arundel officials have taken these drills a step further by using students and parents, and by forcing them to react to a crisis as it unfolds.

"This way, we will get other points of view about how the situation was handled," Doyle said, noting that police and school officials will critique their performance with comments from the parents, students and school staff.

The nation's school shootings have prompted educators and police to nail down emergency plans.

Carroll County principals are being asked to make a videotaped walk-through of their schools for police to use in a crisis such as an armed student or barricaded gunman, said Larry Faries, county coordinator of school security.

"A floor plan means nothing," said Faries, a retired state trooper who spent 18 years on the state police special weapons team. "But if you can give me an idea of what the typical classroom or hallway looks like, it means a lot more."

Faries said the tapes will be stored in his office and can be given to troopers in an emergency.

Some districts plan other security measures.

In Washington County, Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. said that all school employees will wear identification cards beginning this fall. Students also might be issued badges, possibly with bar codes or magnetic strips containing information about the wearer.

In Montgomery County, high school students will be required to carry similar identification cards by the end of the year, said Kate Harrison, a county school spokeswoman.

Montgomery County educators also are working to put closed-circuit surveillance systems in all high schools. Seven of the 23 high schools have them now, Harrison said. Two more will have them by the start of school, and three more by spring.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 8/24/99

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