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Earthquake, tornado prompt Westmoreland County to review safety plans

Rich Cholodofsky
| Wednesday, April 25, 2012, 9:26 a.m.

Westmoreland County will upgrade its security plans for the courthouse and adjoining buildings after last month's earthquake and the March 23 tornado that hit just miles from the Greensburg complex.

Starting this week, county employees will get security briefings related to evacuation procedures and additional emergency alerts that will be broadcast throughout the courthouse, its annex and extension buildings.

"Without constant reinforcement, sometimes employees lose site of what they need to do," said county park police Chief Nick Caesar.

For years, county police implemented a color-coded security system that alerted staff to medical emergencies and situations involving an unruly visitor or employee.

Caesar said two new color alerts will be added, one telling courthouse personnel of dangerous weather that requires staff to leave offices and congregate in windowless hallways. Another alert will be sounded when the courthouse must be locked down, in cases such as a lost or abducted child or a security risk outside the building.

"Hopefully, it's something we never have to use, but we're planning for it," Caesar said.

The security briefings had been planned earlier this year. During the August earthquake, officials were alarmed when some staffers left the courthouse without an evacuation order.

Jeff Fait, the county's manager of fire and safety operations, said the courthouse complex's staff of about 850 workers will be told how and when to exit and where they should report.

Staffers will be updated on how to ensure that the more than 1,000 daily visitors to the building are kept safe in an emergency.

"Our employees are going to assist the public, and evacuation team members will check their departments, restrooms and common areas to make sure visitors know the procedures and are evacuated," Fait said.

Regular visitors to the courthouse will be invited to participate in the briefings, Caesar said.

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