Administration decides not to evacuate
At 12:04 p.m. on April 20, an unidentified male called the county's emergency communications center issuing a bomb threat to the Blair building, according to a police report filed by Blair Cluster Educational Facilities Officer Ralph Penn.
The caller told the operator that he was very upset and that he planned to "blow up Blair High School."
Blair's on-site safety team, comprised of security, building services, teachers, administrators and police officers, met at 1 p.m. to discuss how to respond to the threat. Afterward, security and building services began searching the school for suspicious packages. An item discovered in the SAC courtyard was investigated but was found to be a leather drumsticks case. According to the safety team, the sweep was complete by 1:30 p.m.
According to Principal Phillip Gainous, the safety team had the opportunity to review the recording of the phone call during the meeting. "What we heard doesn't meet the threshold," Gainous said. "We don't want to send the signal that every time we get a call, we'll dump school out."
The on-site safety team follows a protocol to assess threat risks, said Gainous, who could not reveal details of the protocol for security reasons. The administration decided not to evacuate because the threat did not meet the prescribed threshold for security threats. "If it's not within the protocol, we're not going to evacuate," Gainous said, "but we'll still check around."
Although safety is the first consideration, decision-makers have to weigh the risk level of a threat against the disruption of an evacuation. "We have to make some type of educated decision whether we want to disrupt the school day for what might be total nonsense," said MCPS Field Security Coordinator James Leasure.
Blair administration decided that the threat's risk level was low because it was very general and did not specify a time or location, according to the police report Penn filed after the incident,
Because seventh period was just beginning at the time of the search, the administration did not anticipate a large volume of students in the halls and so did not issue a code blue, according to Leasure.
For higher-level threats, the administration may decide to implement a code blue or evacuate the building and contact the bomb squad.
Gainous said the last bomb threat at Blair was four to five years ago. To his knowledge, this incident was also the first time a threat pertaining to Blair was not delivered directly to the school.
Countywide, schools sometimes receive up to 10 bomb threats in a given week, according to Leasure.
An explosive device has never detonated in a county school, but that doesn't diminish the seriousness with which bomb threats are received, Leasure said. "It's not something taken lightly," Gainous said.
Because April 20 was the seventh anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings, the safety team may have given the threat more credence than they otherwise would have, Gainous said. "It may have played into the person making the call," he said, but the anniversary was not referenced in the threat.
The punishment for calling in a bomb threat is expulsion. The caller has not yet been identified.
Students with any information about this or any other security threat should notify a faculty member or call the MCPS School Safety Hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477). Anonymity will be honored.
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