Preparing For A Terrorist Attack -- UC Workshop Targets Ohio Schools

The school bell rings, students pack the halls to change classes, and at that very moment, a truck plows through the front doors of the building, sending up a toxic green cloud. How does the school safety team safely evacuate the school, treat the victims and react to the threat of another possible strike? That was the assignment delivered to educators, administrators and law and emergency personnel as they put their emergency manuals under review at a workshop coordinated by the UC-based Ohio Resource Network for Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities, the Ohio Emergency Management Agency and the Ohio Department of Education.

The Jan. 20 workshop at the Kings Island Conference Center was the first of 10 that will be held across the state to help schools improve their crisis plans that were created in response to Ohio Senate Bill 1, says Robert Canning, assistant director for the Ohio Resource Network for Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities, headquartered in the Teachers College at the University of Cincinnati. The crisis team for Oak Hills High School hosted the session, as the school became the hypothetical target for the exercise. The workshop brought in 200 people and was planned for school crisis coordinators across Hamilton, Butler, Warren, Clermont, Brown, Highland, Fayette and Clinton counties.

“Things have changed dramatically since 9-11 – so much so that it has become a part of our language. It has changed the way we respond as a country and it has changed the way we responded as first responders,” said Al Yaworske, senior management analyst for the emergency management division of the Titan Corporation, which developed the workshop exercise under contract with the Ohio Emergency Management Agency. The company develops national security services for the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and other government agencies.

The workshop presented two modules: First, how should schools react if there is the threat of an attack? This exercise presented a hypothetical threat reported in late December by a radical group. The teams were challenged on how they would work with law enforcement agencies to take every action possible to keep their buildings safe.

Susan Freeze, an analyst for Titan, presented module two for the Oak Hills crisis team: The scenario of a chemical attack on the high school, starting at 2 p.m. on Jan. 20. During a two-hour time period, Freeze challenged the team with coping with a situation that could arise from the crash of a truck loaded with chlorine. That could involve treating injuries ranging from trauma from the crash to chemical exposure; safely evacuating teachers and students; interviewing witnesses; notifying parents and working with media; and then reacting to yet another possible threat – a suspicious package found on school grounds.

The team centered on six key objectives as it got to work: the response plan itself; the administrative decision making process; student accountability (keeping track of students in the middle of a chaotic event); medical capabilities; mental health; and public information.
“We thought Oak Hills High School presented a good response plan,” said Canning. “The scenario put in front of the team was very difficult to control in terms of accountability of the students, since the scenario had the attack occurring at the same time that students were changing classes.

“Schools are vulnerable – we are soft targets for attacks, and that’s why we have been working with the Ohio Emergency Management Agency to exercise these response plans. Also, we need to include students in that crisis planning, so they can be part of the solution,” Canning said.

Richard Lopez, Safe and Drug Free Schools Coordinator for the Ohio Department of Education, pointed out how the workshop addressed the Ohio Guidelines for Effective Programs to Increase Safety, Security, and Social Emotional Competency of Students in Ohio Schools. The guidelines state that schools develop, assess and improve their procedures for “eliminating, buffering or mitigating real and perceived threats to physical safety and security,” therefore allowing “students to focus on learning and staff to focus on instruction.”

The Ohio Homeland Security and the Ohio Emergency Management Agency is setting aside $100,000 to cover the costs of the ten regional sessions, which allows participants to attend free of charge. The next exercise is tentatively planned in May for schools in the Toledo area.



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