The loose-leaf binder looks like your typical, mind-numbing instruction manual. But its pages sound of sirens and screams; they crackle with gunfire; they smell of leaking gas.
The binder contains the Prince William police emergency response plan, with sections on plane crashes, major auto accidents, and hostage negotiations.
This month, police added a new section: school shootings.
Ever since the Police Department formed in 1970, it has had a countywide, general-response plan. But with the specter of school violence hanging over the county, the police needed a plan tailored to schools and their masses of minors grouped in small areas.
"We never before focused on a violent event that occurred in a school," said Major Ron Sullins, assistant chief for criminal investigations for Prince William County. "But because of the impact school violence has on a community, we needed to study the unique needs of schools to put ourselves in a better position if something happens."
In March, a month before the Columbine massacre, Prince William police and school officials attended an FBI seminar presenting the effective strategies--and cautionary tales--gleaned from recent school shootings.
"We want to track events around the country to make sure we're as prepared as we can be," said Prince William Police Chief Charlie Deane. "We've also been doing SWAT exercises in preparation."
On Monday, a similar FBI seminar will be held for Manassas and Manassas Park officials at Metz Junior High School.
After the March seminar, county police, school, and fire and rescue officials created a task force to integrate and coordinate their emergency planning.
That task force accelerated police efforts to plan for school shootings. A final draft of the police response plan was completed this month, and officials say it will be fully functional by the beginning of the school year in September.
Although the exact details are confidential--"We don't want the bad guys to know how we deal with a hostage," said Don Mercer, risk management director for Prince William County schools--the plan ranges from evacuating students to ensuring media helicopters don't interfere with police operations.
"You focus what you already know and do on a perceived problem, and try to come up with all the possible solutions to anything that might occur," Sullins explained. "In any catastrophic situation, a lot of things are set in motion. How do you handle and control those things?"
The task force with police and fire and rescue also has given school officials a chance to ensure their plan is coordinated with police efforts.
For 20 years, Prince William schools have had their own crisis plan, written in an era when hostage situations and school shootings were discussed only in theory. But the recent surge of school violence has prompted school officials to extensively revise and expand their crisis planning.
"It is clear that there was some confusion at Columbine," said Edward L. Kelly, superintendent of Prince William schools. "In our planning process, we need to have it very clearly understood who is in overall charge and who is going to make the call to send in the SWAT team or dismiss the kids. Is that the superintendent or the police chief?"
So, who makes the call: Kelly or Deane?
"I am not trained to nor capable of making decisions when people are being shot. I'd want Chief Deane's expertise," Kelly said. "If they chose me to call in the SWAT team, I'd respond: 'Are you nuts?' "