Archive for Wednesday, October 10, 2001

In Tonganoxie, schools trained for emergencies

Following attacks on East Coast, concerns about safety heightened

October 10, 2001

County and school officials have for years worked together to know how to manage emergency situations. In light of recent terrorist activities on the East Coast, now is a good time to review procedures, said Chuck Magaha, Leavenworth County's emergency preparedness director.

"We don't need to be paranoid," Magaha said. "We just need to be watching over our shoulders with due respect to the situation at hand."

Richard Erickson, Tonganoxie school superintendent, said the school district had previously taken steps toward training district employees on how to handle emergency situations.

For instance, for the past several years, school staff members have attended incident command centers taught by Leaven-worth County Sheriff Lt. John Duncanson.

Duncanson said the 2 1/2-day training course provides a management tool that fits in with what law enforcement, fire departments and emergency medical personnel are going to use when they arrive on the scene.

Planned ahead of time through incident command are locations where students would be taken in the event of an emergency, and locations where area command posts would be established. In an emergency, these plans could give schools the immediacy they need.

"You need to react and you can't waste valuable time waiting for emergency services to get there to get started," Duncanson said. "The school can evacuate kids long before the emergency teams get on the scene."

Magaha said while it's great to have such plans in place, citizens also need to develop attitudes of "situation awareness," not just in schools, but everywhere.

It's as simple as being tuned in to what's going on around us, Magaha said.

People should pay attention to the behavior of others, he said. Businesses should be aware of what vehicles are making deliveries. Teachers should not only watch the children on the playground, they should also watch the vehicles driving by. It's advisable for all school employees, even in small towns, to wear photo identification badges. And, Magaha said, it's important to call authorities if any suspicious-looking packages arrive in the mail.

Another area of concern, Magaha said, is that schools often allow parking next to the buildings, making the structure an easier target for a car bomb.

"Your vulnerability is dropped considerably if you have a 75-foot buffer where no cars can drive or park," Magaha said.

In the Midwest, Magaha said, if there's any fallout from the terrorism-related activities, he suspects it could come from the unexpected.

"It's not the international terrorism that bothers me," he said. "It's going to be the domestics, the copycats we have on our home turf."

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