Each school has an emergency plan for handling natural disasters, fires and bomb threats. But dealing with Anthrax and other biological threats is something new for many schools. Even though most scares turned out to be hoaxes, school districts are treating them very seriously.
Larry Johnson is in charge of security for the Gulfport and Harrison County School Districts. His job is to protect students and teachers. Now, he has new safety worries.
Johnson says the school has dealt with hazardous chemicals before, such as overturned trains or trucks, where chemicals are released in to the air. In those cases, the teachers knew what to do. But, school officials are not facing the possibility of really touching or seeing the chemical face to face like now, so there are precautions that they're taking.
One precaution is making sure teachers never let their guard down. Johnson told teachers not to get paranoid, but to be observant of their surroundings and be aware of students who are not where they're supposed to be. He also asked them to keep him posted on what they see and hear.
Johnson has distributed a memo to all schools in both districts. The memo lists guidelines schools need to follow when handling Anthrax and other chemical and biological threats. The guidelines explain what Anthrax is, how to handle suspicious letters and packages, and what to do if you do come in contact with a strange substance.
Johnson says if a suspicious envelop is found in a classroom, he probably won't evacuate the whole school. It will depend on various factors, like the ventilation system. It will be on a case by case basis.
Teacher Grace Barkum says educators are talking to the students when the topic comes up, and they are aware of the possibility that a threat can happen. They don't take safety for granted.
School leaders say they will look for more ways to improve security so students and teachers can continue to feel safe. Some schools are still working with civil defense and local law enforcement agencies in formulating their emergency response plans in dealing with suspected Anthrax. Officials are also warning students that anyone convicted of making Anthrax threats could face up to 20 years in prison.