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U.S. Alerts Schools About Terror Threat

Associated Press | October 8 2004

Comment: My favourite line - 'People staring at or quickly looking away from employees or vehicles as they enter or leave parking areas' - that doesn't leave little room for maneuver. This is about justifying security guards, ID cards and cameras in schools.

The Education Department has advised school leaders nationwide to watch for people spying on their buildings or buses to help detect any possibility of terrorism like the deadly school siege in Russia.

The warning follows an analysis by the FBI and the Homeland Security Department of the siege that killed nearly 340 people, many of them students, in the city of Beslan last month.

"The horror of this attack may have created significant anxiety in our own country among parents, students, faculty staff and other community members," Deputy Education Secretary Eugene Hickok said in a letter to schools and education groups.

The safety advice is based on lessons learned from the Russia incident. But there is "no specific information indicating that there is a terrorist threat to any schools or universities in the United States," Hickok said.

Federal law enforcement officials also have encouraged local police to stay in contact with school officials and have encouraged reporting of suspicious activities, the letter says.

In particular, schools were told to watch for activities that may be legitimate on their own but may suggest a heightened terrorist threat if many of them occur.

Among those activities:

Interest in obtaining site plans for schools, bus routes and attendance lists;

Prolonged "static surveillance" by people disguised as panhandlers, shoe shiners, newspaper or flower vendors or street sweepers not previously seen in the area;

Observations of security drills;

People staring at or quickly looking away from employees or vehicles as they enter or leave parking areas;

Foot surveillance of campuses involving individuals working together.

The effort is the latest by the Education Department and other federal agencies to encourage school officials to maintain and practice a plan for responding to emergencies.

After the terrorist takeover of the Russian school, President Bush asked his top advisers to review their strategies for dealing with hostage situations, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has said.

The federal government is advising schools to take many steps to improve the security of their buildings. Those include installing locks for all doors and windows, having a single entry point into buildings and ensuring they can reach school bus drivers in an emergency.

The Education Department sent its letter by e-mail Wednesday to school police, state school officers, school boards, groups representing principals and many other organizations.

The Homeland Security Department also sent a bulletin Wednesday to federal, state and local emergency officials to provide fresh guidance based on the review of the school siege in Russia.

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