School systems recognized for emergency procedures

Carroll, Baltimore counties to receive governor's award for booklets and training

November 26, 1999|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

When police feared a gunman was loose near Francis Scott Key High School in Uniontown several weeks ago, school administrators put their new "Code Red" security plan into action. Students knew not to leave the building. Teachers knew what instructions to give. Administrators knew how to handle the media and parents.

As it turned out, students were never in danger. But Principal George Phillips said having the procedure in place put everyone more at ease. And the Carroll County public school system, which this year mandated that all schools have such procedures, is about to be recognized as a trailblazer in the effort to make schools safer. The Governor's Crime Prevention Award will be handed out at a ceremony in Baltimore at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Several hundred law enforcement officials, organizations and citizens will receive awards at the function. Patricia Sill, administrator of the Crime Prevention Institute, the state office handling the award, said it has been given to individual schools in the past, but never in its 20-year history to entire school systems.

In addition to Carroll, Baltimore County public schools are winning an award for publishing a guide of "Emergency Procedures" that has been distributed to staff. Sill said the two systems' efforts clearly reflect a heightened awareness in the wake of school violence nationwide. She said the awards committee was not searching to recognize school systems and that the winners simply emerged.

"It's truly preventative and truly proactive," Sill said. "It is looking to make sure all these things are in place to prevent [violence] from occurring."

Carroll was planning its new security measures before the shooting at Columbine High outside Denver this year. Cynthia Little, Carroll's director of pupil services, said some of the earlier incidents of violence had convinced officials that even rural areas could be caught off guard.

"It made us realize that is doesn't have to be a high-crime area," Little said. "It was the nightly news, these events happening in our living rooms, that made us realize it could happen here."

In addition to having quick-response crisis plans in place at every school, Carroll began conducting anti-violence training for its staff. The system also began to take threats by students more seriously, handing out suspensions to first-time offenders.

Larry Faries, Carroll's coordinator of school security, has been asked to offer advice to other systems in Maryland.

In Baltimore County, a committee spent six months developing a chart that outlines how to avoid crises and what to do if they occur. The booklet covers medical emergencies, bomb threats, deaths of students or staff, natural disasters, workplace violence, evacuation procedures, weapons in schools and kidnappings.

School principals and key personnel have received copies and thousands of teachers have been made aware of it.

Among the hundreds of other award winners are Robert Alex, a Baltimore County resident who began a citizens patrol program in the Pascal/Turner community, and the Castle in the Sand Hotel in Ocean City, which has offered its facility free of charge to the Ocean City Police Department for training sessions.

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