With 21 elementary schools, nine middle schools, seven high schools and four specialty schools spread across Carroll County, the public school system's security coordinator, Larry Faries, found himself with 41 emergency response plans on his office shelf.
Some were excellent. Others were not. None followed the same format, creating potential difficulties for police, fire and rescue crews who must respond to emergencies at all 41 schools.
School officials want to come up with one plan to fit all schools.
Faries, who spent 28 years with the state police before joining the Carroll schools in 1999 to focus on school security issues, is working this summer to streamline and standardize the plans so that administrators at the schools will handle bomb threats and hazardous chemical spills the same way and the correct way.
"Some plans in place were outstanding and more detailed than what I'm requiring here. Others were fair, at best, and this will make their plans much better," Faries said.
"The biggest change will be not so much for the schools as for the other players involved, namely the emergency services. They'll now have up-to-date and better information. They'll know the players at every school. They'll be ready and able to go to a school and set up a command post with the necessary logistical support."
Faries and his colleagues at Maryland Association of School Security Professionals have created a basic fill-in-the-blanks template that Faries said could standardize emergency procedures at schools statewide.
The model for Carroll schools requires administrators to establish a chain of command, an emergency response team, primary and backup command posts and emergency student dismissal procedures.
It also requires schools to list every staff member with training in first aid or cardiopulmonary resuscitation and to collect more than a dozen items - including student rosters, bus routes, parent directories, flashlights, whistles and radios - in emergency kits that must be updated four times a year.
The uniform emergency plans also will serve as a guide and source of information for schools, Faries said.
The plans distinguish between an emergency - "any incident in which there is a threat of actual damage," such as a bomb scare, a fire or a shooting - and a crisis, which is defined as "the mental or emotional issues that result from some occurrence," including a student or staff suicide, a natural disaster or a national terrorist alert.
The document also lays out procedures that schools must follow for almost every type of emergency, including bomb threats, bombings, bus or traffic accidents, fires, hazardous-material contaminations, hostage or barricade situations, kidnappings, deaths on campus, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, shootings on campus, utility emergencies and gas leaks.
"It pretty much runs the gamut," Faries said. "Some schools accounted for all these things, but some didn't. This plan is specific enough so that it doesn't matter the size of school, the same stuff is going to apply."
School officials said no particular incident in Carroll schools prompted Faries' review and standardization of emergency plans. Rather, recent tragedies elsewhere, including the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Washington-area sniper shootings last year, have prompted school leaders to look more closely at their preparedness.
"This can bring an air of calm about the school environment when or if an emergency situation arises," said Harry Fogle, assistant superintendent of school management for Carroll schools. Making preparations that ensure a safe school frees teachers to concentrate on teaching, he said, which is "important because we're at a point in time when none of us knows what tomorrow will bring."