It's hard to prepare for a possible attack that may or may not come, and may take many forms. But Montgomery County school officials are trying to prepare as best they can -- preparations that do not involve rolls of duct tape and plastic sheeting but still were cited by federal government officials as exemplary.
County schools have held drills for Code Blue, which calls for an account for all children, and Code Red, which keeps them away from doors and windows -- not to be confused with Code Orange, which doesn't have its own drill.
On the system's Web site, school administrators nationwide can buy two sleek county-produced videos that explain the codes and how to keep schools safe during emergencies. Parents can read advice sheets with titles such as "Tips for Helping Children Handle Tragic Events" and "Stress Reduction Techniques for Adults and Children."
On Tuesday, cable Channel 34 will broadcast a live show in which school, health and fire-rescue officials will discuss security issues. Parents can call in with questions.
The school system started to rewrite its emergency plans after the school shootings in Littleton, Colo., in 1999. They were revised again after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and then the sniper crisis in October.
Principals have written to parents about how they might be reunited with their children, depending on the emergency.
If something happens, schools spokesman Brian J. Porter said, "our first advice to parents is to stop and make themselves aware of the emergency directions" from public safety officials. In some cases, those directions may mean students would stay locked in school -- a possibility that is fine with many parents.
In case of emergency, "I think everybody has 100 percent confidence" in the schools, said parent Sarah Prendergast of Bethesda. "Montgomery County is a well-run county. They don't leave anything to chance."
Some students say that they are sick of hearing about emergency planning, that it makes them more nervous than they were before. Others say they are more confident knowing a plan is in place.
Parents, Prendergast said, are much more worried about their children getting in a car with a speeding driver, coming home too late from who knows where or not getting into college than about chemical agents seeping through the windows of their children's classrooms.
In light of war in Iraq, the school system, like many others in the area, canceled school-sponsored overnight trips more than 75 miles away, except for outdoor education. Classes are allowed to visit the District if principals, staff, parents and students feel comfortable enough.
Prendergast's daughter was looking forward to one such adventure, a Walt Whitman High School chorus trip to Atlanta and New Orleans next month, for which families paid $700 that may not be refunded by the tour operator.
Prendergast is annoyed about the $700. She's annoyed about an opportunity missed because of what she says is overcaution.
"I don't believe that the kids are in any danger. I really don't," Prendergast said. "If they were going on an archaeological dig in Syria or Iraq, that's one thing. But a bus trip down to Atlanta?"
During the live television program, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday on cable Channel 34, residents may call with questions at 301-279-3234 or e-mail email@example.com.