By Rick Musselman, Sports Editor, Belvoir EagleOctober 28, 2011
Every Halloween, many young people take to the sidewalks and streets as soon as the sky grows dark to make their candy-gathering circuit through the neighborhoods, and much of the older crowd takes advantage of the occasion to attend local parties and celebrate into the late hours.
Like any occasion during which large numbers of people are out and about after dark, Halloween brings with it certain hazards. With many children crossing streets and often approaching the homes of strangers, and with many adults (and unfortunately teens) partaking in alcohol, safety organizations strongly urge participants in the festivities to use common sense and caution.
"The most important note on Halloween safety is parental supervision and visibility," said Gena Hernandez, Neighborhood Watch liaison for Woodlawn Villages at Belvoir. "Parents, even those of teenagers, need to be home, available, and preferably visible during the trick or treat hours. This is the key to preventing vandalism and child abduction."
"In terms of visibility, highly reflective bags, clothing, or even just a safety belt are the best ways to be seen," she added.
Children should always carry some type of light-producing device as well, according to Hernandez.
"Children should take a chem light in the bag, a flashlight with the parent supervising, and some sort of reflective material on their costume."
In spite of the fun and excitement Halloween represents, the holiday presents three primary dangers that children and parents must be aware of, Hernandez said.
"Number one is traffic. If they can't see you, they can't avoid you. Number two is child abduction. Too many parents become complacent on post and falsely believe that their children are safe to roam about. This is patently untrue. Parents must be aware and have eyes on their children of all ages. On post, the most important thing to remember is that we are not immune. Crime happens everywhere to everyone."
"The third (danger facing children) concerns candy," Hernandez added. "Parents must sort through candy before the child consumes any food. Anything homemade, unwrapped, damaged or rewrapped should unfortunately be discarded."
While maintaining vigilance and caution during the festivities, it is important for everyone to respect those individuals and post residents who are choosing not to celebrate Halloween.
"We have a wide cross section of the world in our community; not everyone has the same beliefs," Hernandez said. "We can respect and be tolerant of those beliefs. If someone hasn't decorated or does not have their porch light on, please do not approach the home. Chances are they will feel slightly uncomfortable to being very annoyed having to turn children away. Also remember (that) there is a large population of shift workers. Try to keep the volume to a reasonable level. A good rule of thumb is knocking instead of ringing the doorbell. If someone is up for handing out candy, they will be listening for a knock. With a ring you risk waking a sleeping infant, shift worker, or disturbing someone who has simply chosen not to participate."
Good communication and proper planning are also important components in enjoying an incident-free Halloween night.
"Before you leave, arrange a meet-up point in case you are separated from your child," Hernandez said. "If they are old enough, have them check in via cell (phone) every 30 minutes to 1 hour to ensure they are still safe and enjoying themselves. If they are not old enough for a cell, stay with them."
To help ensure safety for Fort Belvoir youth, Hernandez is coordinating a special Halloween safety program for post youth and adults to coincide with the Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation's precautionary efforts.
"We are going to be doing a community outreach project on Halloween here in Woodlawn to address (these safety) issues," she said. "I am going to have three manned tables with donated chemical light-sticks, flyers about candy safety, and neighborhood watch information."
Along with these basic safety guidelines, staying sober is of critical importance to teens and young adults on Halloween night.
According to the United Prevention Coalition of Fairfax County, a local organization committed to keeping youth and young adults safe and drug free, Halloween and alcohol have become an all too common partnership for many.
"Halloween has become a popular night for some teens to abuse alcohol and roam neighborhoods with friends, and we want to encourage our youth to have fun without alcohol," said UPC Executive Director Diane Eckert. "The scariest part about Halloween is that it also has become one of the deadliest (holidays) because of drunk drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration."
The official hours for trick or treating on Fort Belvoir are 6 to 8 p.m. Monday.
Additional information about Halloween safety on post and the Track or Treat event is available from www.belvoirmwr.com; the Fort Belvoir police department chief Tim Wolfe at (703) 806-3384; www.halloweensafety.com; or Gena Hernandez, Woodlawn Neighborhood Watch liaison, at hernandez