- The Washington Times - Friday, September 10, 2004

Area school officials say the siege and massacre at a school in Beslan, Russia, last week is unlikely to happen here because of security measures that have been implemented in the wake of the September 11 attack in 2001, the sniper shootings in 2002 and subsequent threats of terrorism.

“In the event of [such] a terrorist threat, we would engage our emergency preparedness plan in conjunction with city and federal police,” said J.W. Harris, deputy director of security for D.C. Public Schools. “We have a long-standing, cooperative agreement and working relationship with local and federal agencies for such events.”

Kelly Alexander, system information director for Prince George’s County schools, said officials “have security staff and cameras in the [majority] of our schools, and we feel as if we are prepared and that is the best that we can do.” Each school has an individual emergency plan based on a systemic model, she said.

Officials at Arlington County public schools said an emergency-response plan has been in place for years to protect their students.

“The plan continues to be updated, and we work very closely with the Arlington County police and fire departments and the Emergency Response Team,” said Linda Erdos, director of school and community relations. “Whether it was the attack on the Pentagon, the snipers or Hurricane Isabel, we work closely with the county staff.”

On Sept. 1, about three dozen Chechen terrorists, armed with guns and explosives, held hostage more than 1,000 parents, teachers and children in School No. 1 in Beslan. Russian special forces stormed the school Sept. 3 after a blast, and the scene erupted in a lengthy gunbattle punctuated by explosions.

At least 326 hostages were killed, about half of them children.

Security at Montgomery County schools has been enhanced with the implementation of the educational facilities officer program last year, officials said.

Funded by a grant from the U.S. Justice Department, the $4 million program assigns uniformed police officers to clusters of schools to enhance emergency preparedness and communication between the school and public-safety agencies.

“We’ve had a very extensive and thorough emergency plan in place for a while,” said Kate Harrison, a county schools spokeswoman. “Certainly, being in the Washington area and so close to the Pentagon, and with anthrax as well as after Columbine, area schools had to look long and hard at security. We made it a focal point.”

In the District, police Chief Charles H. Ramsey last week said plans are being worked out for officers to take over school security from the private agency Watkins Security of D.C. Inc.

Last school year, 72 police officers were assigned to security in city schools. Chief Ramsey said 99 have been assigned this year.

In addition, all city high schools have security radios for immediate contact with police, and every middle and high school will have one to five officers assigned to them, beginning this month.

Arlington’s public schools are staffed with resource officers who are members of the Arlington Police Department. The administration and staff review the procedures frequently, Ms. Erdos said.

Administrators have visited each school with emergency-management teams. Schools have a shelter-in-place plan and drills are conducted throughout the year, she said.

“We’ve learned that nothing is foolproof, but we’ve tried to be cautious without causing fear,” Ms. Erdos said.

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