Secret Service Offers School Security Tips
Agents Tout Tactics Used to Protect VIPs
by Allan Lengel, Washington Post, December 21, 2002
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It was back on Oct. 11 that area school security officers and
administrators gathered for a hastily called seminar to learn
how they could best protect children.
But at 9:28 that morning, the sniper -- on officials' minds
since a 13-year-old boy was critically wounded on his way to
Tasker Middle School in Prince George's County -- struck
again, this time in Spotsylvania County.
Many rushed away from the Secret Service training center in
Laurel to get back to their schools.
Yesterday, the meeting resumed, with more than two dozen
administrators and school security and police officers
listening to Secret Service trainers talk about security
techniques that were developed over the years to protect
dignitaries and could just as easily work for children.
Trainers urged officials to think ahead, to head off problems,
whether they were sniper attacks or gang violence or
"Maybe there is no tangible threat -- the snipers have been
caught. Maybe nothing is happening right now," Secret Service
agent Lisa Stokes said. But, she warned: "Once it starts
happening, it's too late. You guys right now in your system
need to start thinking proactively."
As the half-day session neared an end, many attendees said the
talks reinforced the thinking that has gone into safety
measures already in place, but they agreed that they needed to
plan more to ensure that the students will be safe.
John Kenty of Tasker Middle School said that all the
information would motivate security forces to do more.
"I'm going to try some of those suggestions" about being
proactive, said Cpl. Harry Walker of the Prince George's
County Police Department.
As part of that thinking, Stokes suggested, schools should
follow the sort of preparations that the Secret Service uses
for presidential details: trying to imagine what portions of a
building or area a criminal would exploit to commit a crime.
"They're looking for areas where the targets are exposed for a
long period of time," she said.
She suggested security patrols around school property to look
for suspicious activity, paying attention to anyone who might
be conducting a surveillance mission.
Stokes and other agents suggested that school security
officers check wooded areas for hideouts, think about changing
locks on doors if too many former employees may still have
keys, look at the placement of trash cans near buildings where
explosive devices could be left and encourage members of the
community to keep an eye on the schools and to report
The agents also touched on watching for suspicious mail and
said security officers should urge office workers not to open
packages with obvious misspellings or excessive postage.
One agent, James Galvin, went through a sobering list of
biological and chemical threats, including anthrax and
smallpox, and the symptoms to watch for.
After the presentation, Donald R. Mercer Jr., director of
security for Prince William County schools, had some sobering
thoughts of his own.
"We've got a lot of work to do in this area," he said. "It's a
whole new world."