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Schools can't take chances on false alarms

None of the recent evacuations have proved serious, but officials would rather err on the side of caution.

By JONATHAN ABEL
Published February 2, 2007


SPRING HILL - Emergency officials have been busy at Hernando schools recently with five separate evacuations in the last seven school days.

"We hate to see false alarms where students are taken out of the classroom," said school district spokesman Roy Gordon. "But safety is paramount. Things run in streaks in life."

Emergency preparedness is no exception.

A little more than a week ago, on Jan. 24, West Hernando Middle School was evacuated because of a smoky odor that came from a burned up air handler. No fire was found.

Jan. 26, a mysterious odor caused the evacuation of Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics and sent 36 students to the hospital.

Tuesday brought another evacuation, this time at Parrott Middle School, where a 14-year-old called in a false bomb threat to get out of class and found himself headed to jail.

And on Thursday, Pine Grove Elementary School was evacuated not once but twice. The first evacuation came when someone smelled smoke. The fire department found no fire.

A few hours later, a heat detector in the kitchen went off when some vegetables were taken out of a steamer and the school was evacuated again.

Security director Barry Crowley said the school system has 32 sites and more than 240 buildings on 48 alarm systems, so there are a lot of chances for an alarm to go off.

"It kind of runs in spurts with that many buildings," he said, adding that once the alarms go off the schools have to be evacuated.

But the false alarms are not a waste. Each school schedules six fire drills, four bomb drills, four tornado drills and two practice lock-downs a year, Crowley said. When an unscheduled alarm goes off, the school can count the evacuation toward its practice requirement.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or 352 754-6114.