www.baltimoresun.com/explore/harford/news/ph-ag-school-security-0829-20120828,0,7456030.story

baltimoresun.com

Harford officials say schools remain prepared for violence

BY BRYNA ZUMER, bzumer@theaegis.com

5:05 PM EDT, August 28, 2012

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With Monday's shooting just across the county line at Perry Hall High School, at least one Harford County school could see more emergency drills, although school and police officials generally said they do not expect any new security measures.

Perry Hall, home of Baltimore County's largest high school, is reeling after a 15-year-old student shot into students in the cafeteria on the first day of school, critically wounding one boy.

Robert Gladden Jr., of Kingsville, has been charged with attempted murder in the case.

The incident has all of Harford's schools and the school systems, as well as local police agencies, looking over their emergency plans and in some instances, trying to be better prepared to beefing up police presence.

Students at The John Carroll School, the county's largest non-public school, might get more drills as a result of the incident, principal Madelyn Ball said Tuesday.

"Of course, it brings to mind that we need to practice more and practice different types of drills more," she said, adding that the incident is a reminder of the importance of students paying attention during such drills.

The school might mix up the drills or change the procedures in the middle of a drill, in light of the fluctuating procedures that unfolded in Perry Hall.

Ball noted the school had a lockdown that turned into an evacuation, and even the evacuation was adjusted because it was unsafe to exit through certain doors.

"I was very impressed with how well Perry Hall was able to safely get everyone out of the building," she said.

The beginning of a new school year is an appropriate time to highlight emergency procedures, she said.

"This is a good time to be thinking of those things because they are fresh in everyone's minds," she said.

John Carroll has emergency procedures in place for a variety of scenarios, including weather-related events.

Ball said a parent even asked last year about earthquake drills, after the rare Aug. 23 earthquake that hit the East Coast.

"We feel very confident in the plans that we have, and our prayers are certainly with the whole Perry Hall community," she said.

The county's public schools system has not made any specific changes, but the Bel Air Police Department did provide more officers for Bel Air middle and high schools Tuesday, deputy police chief Richard Peschek said Tuesday.

'Staff remain vigilant'

Harford County Public Schools has a critical incident plan for each school and conducts drills every year, spokeswoman Teri Kranefeld said.

"HCPS staff remain vigilant and continue to implement the security procedures that have been established to keep our buildings safe," she said via e-mail.

The school system also has an "excellent working relationship" with local and state emergency officials and "active-shooter" drills are conducted with key players, she said.

Each high school has a resource officer who also serves the feeder elementary and middle schools, and no weapons are allowed on school property or buses, she said.

Police in Havre de Grace and Aberdeen did not plan to beef up security as a result of the incident but assured they have procedures in place to handle a school shooting.

In Havre de Grace, there is an "immediate lockdown procedure" in place if a similar shooting were to happen in Havre de Grace, police spokesman Ofc. Jeff Gilpin said.

The school board also has its own procedures that outline what the school would do.

Every year the police department goes through training on how to respond to active shootings, he said.

Gilpin said officers "run through scenarios and practice different techniques."

"Our first goal is to get to the shooter as soon as possible, stop the threat," Gilpin said. "From there the investigative process takes over."

Officers sometimes use training weapons in a simulated classroom, usually vacant buildings or places with offices that resemble a school.

Officers are also encouraged to conduct "walk-throughs" in actual schools.

Rick Grambo, vice president of the board of education, said it was too soon to say how the incident could affect the county.

"I think it's a horrible, senseless tragedy but I am sure the superintendent and his staff are considering some different things," he said. "I know they are aware of the situation."

Sheriff Jesse Bane said the sheriff's office has worked diligently with school officials, including Harford Community College, and will continue discussing ways to improve security. 

"We have reached out to our local day care centers to offer our services and will continue to assign school resource officers on high school and middle school campuses to enhance security on school properties," Bane said.

At the scene

Wayne Tome, the mayor of Port Deposit and battalion chief at the Baltimore County Fire Department, oversaw the entire incident as fire commander.

He sent four medic units and two fire units to the scene, standing by while police cleared the building, helped evacuate the school and oversaw the critically wounded student flown to shock trauma.

Besides the immediate student who was shot, "there were some minor injuries and some illnesses," Tome said, explaining that a couple of people went to the hospital with injuries like twisted ankles during the evacuation.

"It was a little bit chaotic in that regard," he said.

The event was a change from shootings the department has seen in the past.

"It's definitely a different setting when you have a school structure and the biggest school in Baltimore County. You have young people involved," Tome said.