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Evacuating school practiced

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Posted: Tuesday, May 18, 2004 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:48 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Painted Sky Elementary School was evacuated on May 3, and all students were bused to Casas Adobes Christian School.

The evacuation was part of a mock-emergency, organized by the Pima County Sheriff's Department, so area agencies could experience working together to handle a large-scale emergency.

The exercise was funded by the Pima County Office of Emergency Management.

The mock emergency involved a terrorism threat. As part of the scenario, police arrested someone at 4 a.m. associated with an attempted bank robbery, but two other suspects escaped.

At 8 a.m., a 911 caller claimed to be part of a Middle Eastern alliance for terror and said that if the bank robbery suspect was not released, there could be serious consequences to the community.

About 20 minutes later, another 911 call contained the additional threat that dreadful events could befall the children in the community.

A Ryder truck, supplied by the Pima County Office of Emergency Management, began emitting a green fog-like substance at Wildlife Ridge Park about a mile from Painted Sky Elementary School.

The exercise involved locating the truck, notifying Amphitheater Public Schools, evacuating the children, and having Rural/Metro Fire Depart-ment to set up a decontamination center near Casas Adobes Christian School.

The children at Painted Sky were not told the specifics of the scenario. Once on the school buses, they stayed aboard until they were taken back to their school.

Bruce Weigold, the principal at Painted Sky, said the exercise would give the district a better understanding of how it would work with multiple agencies in the case of a large-scale emergency involving school children.

"Nobody in Amphi has practiced evacuating a school off campus," he said. "They've only speculated what that would look like or entail, so we took on that task to help all schools get perspective on what that would involve."

He said Superintendent Vicki Balentine attended the mock-emergency, along with other district staff and principals of two other schools.

They planned to discuss the outcome of the emergency with each other, and recommend sharing any useful information with all schools in the district.

Outside professionals evaluated how the emergency responders handled the scenario, and will provide a written report, said Becky Mendez, a spokeswoman for the Oro Valley Police Department.

"This kind of thing helps everyone to be more comfortable should a real emergency happen," she said.

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