In case of emergency -- in case of attack -- Anne Arundel's citizens should remain at home and "shelter in place," preached a host of county officials gathered at the Arundel Center last week.

If something were to happen during the school day, students would remain in school. People in their homes would remain there. The biggest problem officials foresee is employees leaving their workplaces and clogging the roads on their way home.

But until then, said County Executive Janet S. Owens at last week's press conference -- the day after the war began -- citizens should feel safe but also stay alert. Meanwhile, Owens has "partially activated" the county's Emergency Operations Center in Millersville, which is being staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with county, fire, police and health workers to monitor phones and police scanners.

Owens couldn't say how much the operations center will cost the county. It's a measure vital to the safety of the citizens, she said, adding, "How can you ask me the cost?"

Police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan, who has already seen nine of his officers called up to active military duty with the war, urged residents to be extra vigilant and call 911 if they see anything unusual.

"We have great citizens," he said. "They're sometimes reluctant to bother the police," which in this case could be a problem. No matter what the situation, people should call 911 "if there's anything unusual in their neighborhood. It could be a strange truck. Or a strange car."

And they must call 911.

"In Anne Arundel," Shanahan said, "if you want a police response, you must dial 911."

Owens cautioned residents to stay home in case of emergency. No large-scale evacuation has been created for the county's 500,000 residents, Owens said, because if everyone tries to leave simultaneously, "we will have gridlock and panic. A sudden onset of 50,000 cars will immobilize our roads. That's why we're talking about shelter in place."

Describing the miles-long backups to the Bay Bridge when hordes are trying to escape to the Eastern Shore for the weekend, Owens added: "We know what happens on Thursday nights on Highway 50 in the summertime."

To give residents an idea of how to create a safe shelter in their homes, she held up the eight-page multicolored "Guide to Emergency Preparedness" that her office has mailed to every home in the county. Inside are directions on creating, a safe zone at home using plastic, duct tape, a radio, batteries and water. But she worried that the pamphlet had come with "junk mail" and that many citizens might have thrown it out. "We've gotten a lot of requests for it lately," she added.

County School Superintendent Eric J. Smith described a letter sent home to parents last week instructing them that if something happens during the school day, principals will secure the buildings, and students will remain inside.

"Parents should not come to pick up their children," Smith said.

Owens closed the press conference remarks by noting that citizens should not only remain on guard for anything out of the ordinary but also should arm themselves against panicked reactions to the grapevine.

"I urge you not to fall prey to rumors," Owens said.

"How can you ask me the cost?" County Executive Janet S. Owens (D) responded to a questioner asking about the cost of the county's Emergency Operations Center, which is staffed 24 hours a day. The center, "activated" with the Iraq war, is vital to the safety of citizens, Owens said.