Ridge unveils terrorism safety website at Blair

March 7, 2003, midnight | By Easha Anand Izaak Orlansky | 19 years, 2 months ago

Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and Secretary of Education Rod Paige unveiled a new initiative to assist schools in emergency response plans at Blair today.

The event came less than a month after MCPS issued official guidelines in response to the heightened national terrorism alert outlining schools' preparations for possible chemical, biological and radiological attacks.

According to Ridge, Blair was selected as a presentation site because of its outstanding safety record. Ridge praised MCPS' advanced crisis management plans. "All the nation's schools hopefully will follow your lead," he said.

A separate plan, developed by Johns Hopkins University, gives Blair a larger role in community safety during potential biological attacks. In case of a civil disorder, Blair will be used as an inoculation site and will be delivered vaccines from Johns Hopkins University," said Mark Curran, chair of Blair's crisis planning team.

During his presentation, Paige praised these types of plans. "I want to compliment this great community. I see all the various aspects of the community employed in student safety collaborating with each other," he said.

Other components of the joint initiative between the Department of Homeland Security and Education include a $30-million budget for helping school districts emergency response plans and a new section of the Department of Education website (http://www.ed.gov/emergencyplan, opens in new window)devoted to readying schools for potential emergencies.

The web site, officially made public during the presentation at Blair, builds off the success of Ridge's Ready campaign, designed to prepare families for the possibility of terrorist attacks.

Paige emphasized the importance of practicing a school's emergency plans. "If you don't have a plan, get one. And if you have one, practice it," he said.

The MCPS plan currently presumes an external terrorist attack and does not address situations in which the school is a target, according to District Chief Brian Geraci of the Explosive Investigation Division of Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services MCFR).

The MCPS guidelines also call for principals to be designated as "incident commanders" who will coordinate the emergency response within their schools. Principals received crisis response training after the Sept 11 attacks, said Geraci.

Curran said that future guidelines are being written for increasing personnel accountability and preparing schools to house students for up to three days.

Ridge encouraged such measures as a way to prevent fear. "Terrorism forces us to make a choice. We can be ready, or we can be afraid. And you know Americans aren't afraid of anything, so we'll just be ready," he said.

Ridge emphasized that the new initiative was not in response to any specific threat to schools. Instead, it reflects the Department of Homeland Security's continuing push to enhance outreach programs, he said.

During their two hours at Blair, Ridge and Paige participated in a roundtable discussion with representatives from the Blair faculty and student body, the PTSA, MCFR, the board of Education and the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD).

Ridge and Paige also viewed MCFR's remote tech robots, chemical suits and other emergency equipment.

In the event of terrorist attack, specific MCPS guidelines include the implementation of Code Red and Code Blue drills and the requirement that all students and staff be locked within school buildings.

Other proposed changes in the MCPS guidelines include heightened fire alarm security and procedures for shutting down the school's ventilation system.

Blair, like most new or recently renovated county buildings, is a sealed building; the only air circulation is via the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. In the event of an attack, these systems can be turned off in a "matter of minutes," said Building Services Manger James Brown.

Blair's crisis planning team has provided training for all staff and students regarding emergency response procedures, according to Curran.

Curran sees lunches a Blair's only barrier to complete accountability, as many students are unsupervised.

Despite renewed fears as a result of the heightened terrorism alert, Principal Phillip Gainous said Blair may be the most secure location in the community. "Schools tend to be the safest places to be. We are prepared if the worst should happen," he said.

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Easha Anand. Easha was born on January 17 (mark your calendars!!) in Connecticut, but she lived in India for 3 out of her first 5 years. She's a senior in the magnet, and is especially proud of being one of the big, buff Burly Gorillas (the #1 … More »

Izaak Orlansky. Izaak Orlansky is a senior in the Communications Arts Program. His hobbies include cross-country running, swimming, and singing in the spring musical. Izaak is also a big fan of the Yankees, and likes playing with big fluffy dogs. More »

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