Because bomb threats are real in many schools across the nation, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Department of Education recently joined forces to offer a CD-ROM with one comprehensive plan as well as a Web site that district leaders can use to get the latest stories and resources regarding such threats.
The CD-ROM offers prevention tips and planning advice for bomb threats, such as staff training, when and how to evacuate buildings, how to search a room properly, and how to respond to explosives. Reference cards also help schools customize plans.
The idea came about more than two years ago when the chiefs of police in the nation's largest school districts met to discuss bomb threats in schools, according to William Modzeleski, associate deputy undersecretary of the federal Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Three points were clear, he says: Bomb threats were so extensive in some districts they had to extend the school year; bomb threats were disrupting the entire school day; every district had varying procedures to handle such threats.
The ATFE has compiled a guide based on best practices with general procedures every district should follow. Modzeleski says some points include how important school building layout is and offers such tips as eliminating shrubs near buildings because they are hiding places for bombs, or making sure cars or other vehicles cannot park next to the building, an easy transport for bombs.
Fred Ellis, director of safety and security at Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, says the CD-ROM offers better tips to improve the bomb threat training they already had in place for top administrators. "It really explains the whole soup to nuts about bombs and bomb threats," Ellis says. It deciphers "the difference between a threat and having a device in the school, how to do searches, and it includes a discussion about different responses of just doing nothing or total evacuation."
Planning for Terrorism
Most school districts are ill-prepared to respond to terrorism and lack anti-terrorism training. That's according to the National Association of School Resource Officers, which is comprised of 12,000 school-based law enforcement personnel and county police. The association recently released its 2003 National School-based Law Enforcement Survey, which shows that more than 90 percent of respondents think schools are "soft targets" for potential terror attacks.
More than 76 percent of the officers say their schools lack adequate plans to respond to terrorism and more than 51 percent stated they lack specific guidelines when there is a change in the homeland security color code/federal terrorism warning system.
Curt Lavarello, executive director of NASRO, says a new guide from the U.S. Department of Justice informs school resource officers what to do when the nation's color-coded terror alerts change.
Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services, said last fall that the proposed 2004 federal budget calls for cuts in state allocations for Safe and Drug-Free School Programs, but the government is beefing up security for bridges, monuments and Capitol Hill.
"The nation's school police officers are telling public officials that school safety threats are real, the gaps in preparedness are significant, and the resources for protecting our children are decreasing at a time they are increasing elsewhere. Now is the time for federal and state officials to wake up on homeland security for our nation's schools, not after a crisis occurs that could have been prevented."