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City, schools, university react quickly to attacks

By Judith Scherr, Hank Sims and John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Wednesday September 12, 2001

City officials held what City Manager Weldon Rucker characterized as a mini-Emergency Services meeting Tuesday morning to plan the city response to the attacks in New York and Washington.  

“Operations are open,” Rucker said. “There’s a heightened sense of security.” 

More police officers than usual would be in uniform, Rucker said. Police were preparing for possible local reactions, such as a vigil, which did take place, or a demonstration, which did not. Morning shift police officers came in earlier than usual. 

Additional police patrolled Berkeley High and the middle schools.  

Public works and parks officials were assigned to work around city buildings to be “our eyes and ears,” Rucker said. 

The scheduled City Council meeting was postponed until Thursday. “That would (have been) another area that we would have to secure,” Rucker said. 

The city manager described the situation as an “almost psychological event,” with people possibly reacting in fear. The city’s mental health workers were put on alert. 

City staff reported to work as usual, but Rucker said if any felt they “couldn’t handle it, they can go home.” 

Firefighters were also put on alert, but not on the highest stages of alert. The extra engines were on the ready with nine additional firefighters and additional managers, according to Assistant Fire Chief David Orth. 

A bomb scare at Fourth Street and Virginia Avenue was a false alarm, according to police. 


Schools stay open 

City schools remained open. Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Michele Lawrence, said they were operating as usual, although all out-of-town field trips were canceled.  

Psychologists were on call in case students needed to talk about the day’s events.  

By 11 a.m., fewer than 10 students had been taken out of school by their parents, Lawrence said.  

Calls to a number of elementary schools revealed that at Berkeley Arts Magnet Elementary School the attendance was below normal levels and that some parents had taken their children out of classes. A school secretary said that upper-grade students – those in fifth and sixth grades – were given time in the morning to ask their teachers questions about the attack. 

John Muir, Jefferson and Emerson Primary Schools reported that attendance was at usual levels and classes were being conducted as normal. 

Lawrence said school staff has been thoroughly trained in emergency procedures and that an evacuation plan for each of the schools is in place should it be necessary.  

Matthew Mock, director of children’s mental health services for the city, was out taking the pulse of the schools. And distributing a piece his staff had written on how parents can talk to their children about the events of the day – that includes limiting television-watching, he said. 

“My own (9-year-old) daughter asked if they were going to come and hurt our school,” he said. 

Mock said his child understood that the buildings bombed were very important ones and “for her, (her school is) a very important building.” 

He said he explained to her that it was far away. 

Mock’s hand-out explains that normal reactions to the event in children might be problems going to sleep, reluctance to separate from parents and stomachaches or headaches. 

Children need to be assured about their own safety and that of their parents, the paper advises. Explain the events in a simple way and allow children to talk about what they are feeling about the event. 


University closes Sather Tower 

The UC Berkeley campus stayed open on Tuesday, but according to campus spokeswoman Maria Felde professors were given the option of cancelling their classes. 

Captain Bill Cooper of the UC Police Department, said that the campus police had called in eight off-duty officers to work Tuesday, and had increased foot patrols of the campus. 

Only one building on the campus was closed: Sather Tower, popularly known as the Campanile. According to Felde, the tower was closed as a preventative safety measure. 

“Of all the places on campus, the Campanile was the one place that could be a target for someone who wanted to make a statement,” she said. 

Cooper agreed, and said that closing the tower cost the campus little. “It’s a high-profile landmark that’s not used for any academic or administrative functions,” he said. 


State shuts down services 

State services were shut down. Workers at the California Department of Health Services on Berkeley Way began leaving the building around 10:30 a.m., as word began to spread that Governor Davis had ordered all “non-essential” state facilities closed. 

Security in the building had been tightened as early as 9 a.m. Two entries in the building were closed, and extra security personnel were posted in the lobby. They were “checking and re-checking everyone coming through,” according to one DHS employee. 

The DHS Berkeley office is home to the agency’s “bioterrorism specialists,” among other functions. Lea Brooks, spokesperson for the department, said that the bioterrorism unit would remain on duty throughout the day, either in the field or at the agency’s new Richmond building, which Brooks described as “super-secure.” 

Outside the Berkeley Way office, Fern Orenstein, a DHS trainer and consultant, met with people from around Northern California who were scheduled to participate in a workshop on AIDS and domestic violence. Orenstein and her partner had decided to cancel the workshop even before she had heard the Berkeley Way building would be closed. 

“We had scheduled a workshop on domestic violence today – I’ll remember that for a long time,” said Orenstein. 

A delivery truck parked outside the south entrance to the building elicited a series of nervous jokes from conference attendees, who stood around outside talking about the crisis before going home. 


Hospital is prepared 

Alta Bates/Summit Medical Center was operating Tuesday on “heightened awareness,” with security personnel particularly vigilant – watching “suspicious” people and looking at unusual packages, according to hospital spokesperson Carolyn Kemp.  

Kemp said the day shift was present at the hospital as usual, but staff was anticipating that there may be evening personnel who would not be able to get to the hospital or those who wanted to stay at home with their families.  


Hanging out with friends 

Berkeley residents Jason and T.J. Angell, brothers originally from New York, went to the Triple Rock Brewery on Shattuck Avenue to sit with about 20 others who sipped beer and watched news reports on the attacks.  

“We came down here so we could talk to people,” said Jason. “It was very helpful to be with people who were equally anxious and frustrated about this whole thing.” 

The brothers said they were able to verify the whereabouts of almost all of their friends and family except one friend who worked in the World Trade Center.