A microwave satellite dish that PacTel officials say helped emergency workers communicate in the days after the October fire has been removed from El Morro Elementary School because of a continuing outcry from parents who fear it may pose a health risk to children.
The dish had been installed in the summer, but PacTel officials say it was only put to use during the Friday and Saturday after the Laguna Beach fire when land-line telephone service went down.
The telecommunications satellite was removed last month after an emotional meeting with parents.
Principal Linda Purrington said most parents were concerned about the danger from possible emission of electromagnetic radiation. Doug Rowe, who has two children attending the school, expressed relief Tuesday that the dish is gone.
"My God, it never should have been there in the first place," he said. "Why have it hovering over a child's classroom?"
PacTel and school district officials, however, said the microwave dish did not pose a risk to children.
"There's never been any demonstrated correlation between cellular transmissions and any damage to human beings, or animals for that matter," said Melissa May, public relations manager for PacTel in Irvine. "It's an emotional issue and kind of an alarmist issue, but it's not all based on a lot of knowledge."
Both PacTel and district officials also said they are concerned that communications could be imperiled in a future emergency if land lines go down near the school.
In that case, service for PacTel cellular telephones would be nonexistent unless the satellite dish was reinstalled, they say. Currently, the dish is in storage in a warehouse in Los Angeles County, May said.
"In the case of emergency, we don't have anything to fall back on right now," she said.
To address that problem, school district officials announced this week that they will form a committee to develop guidelines for the use of the telecommunication dish in the event of another emergency.
Although some people had speculated that the satellite dish may have played a role in providing a communications link to allow children to be evacuated from the school during the October fire, a PacTel representative said Tuesday the dish was not operating on that day.
While cellular phones were heavily relied upon at that time, they were operating via land lines then, said PacTel representative Neil Fitzpatrick, who is also a former Laguna Beach mayor.
The school board had approved a contract in November, 1991, to lease a parcel of land at El Morro Elementary to PacTel for $18,000 a year. A 90-foot microwave tower and its underground components were installed in August.