Schools fine-tune color-coded alert plan

Ecker, other top officials must review, approve it

October 09, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Within the next few days, Carroll County principals will receive detailed security procedures in a new color-coded crisis alert system to improve and synchronize the way schools respond to emergencies.

School officials fine-tuned plans for the security system yesterday, as routines resumed a day after most Carroll schools were locked down because of a sniper shooting at a Bowie middle school. Students again were allowed to participate in after-school activities, field trips and outdoor recesses and athletics.

Security coordinator Larry Faries compared the school district's plan to the five-level, color-coded national terror warning system introduced in March by Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge.

The schools' three-level system will be similar to "what you have out there in the world for terrorism," said Faries, who spent 28 years with the state police before joining Carroll schools in 1999 to streamline coordination between schools and law enforcement agencies and to focus attention on security issues. "We have yellow, orange and red levels that increase as the threat increases with procedures the schools should follow based on the threat."

Ranging from "heightened awareness" (yellow code) to "full lockdown" (red code), the levels set procedures such as stationing someone at the building's front entrance or locking all exterior and classroom doors, Faries said.

"It makes it easier to put an e-mail out that says, `Hey folks, we're on code yellow,' and all they have to do is look at a printout and know exactly what procedures to follow for the day," he said. "It makes it a heck of a lot more uniform."

Superintendent Charles I. Ecker and other high-level administrators must review and approve the plan.

School system spokeswoman Carey Gaddis said parents continued to call yesterday to find out how the district was responding to the shooting Monday at Benjamin Tasker Middle School.

"We've gotten calls from parents wanting to know if after-school activities and athletic events are being held and wanting to know if we are allowing the children to go outside," she said. "We are, because Dr. Ecker feels we need to return to our normal routine and our normal procedures."

At 9 a.m. Monday - less than an hour after the 13-year-old boy was shot and critically wounded walking into school - Carroll school administrators ordered principals at the county's 37 elementary, middle and high schools into a partial lockdown. Students were kept inside schools, gym classes and recess were canceled, and field trips were called off if students had not left.

Police and sheriff's deputies were sent to schools, where they patrolled parking lots, circled schools and parked out front during afternoon dismissals.

About 1:30 p.m. Monday, school officials canceled most after-school activities, team practices and games. Only high school clubs, teams and groups that meet indoors were allowed to stay after school, Gaddis said.

All of those activities resumed yesterday. The increased police presence will continue "indefinitely," Faries said.

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