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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Salem school day starts off 'shaky' during drill season

Friday, February 17, 2012

Salem Elementary students line up at the rear of the school, after following an evacuation plan during a Feb. 7 earthquake preparedness drill. Students and teachers regularly participate in fire and storm drills to insure they know what to do in emergency situations.
It was just another Tuesday, in Devon Edwards' Third Grade class at Salem Elementary School.

But, as the class looked for grammatical errors in some sentences, an announcement from Principal Corey Johnson alerted students it was time for an earthquake drill.

With little prompting, the students stood up and automatically crawled under their desks, as Edwards looked on to see that they were hunched on their knees with heads down for proper protection.

Dropping to the ground, taking cover under a sturdy desk or table and holding on until the shaking stops are the three recommended steps experts recommend when an earthquake strikes.

After one minute, principal Johnson came back on instructing students to "line up by your classrooms and prepare to evacuate."

Soon, lines of students were quickly walking to the exit doors closest to their classrooms. All classes formed lines near the playgrounds at the back of the school.

Principal Johnson addressed the students, complimenting them for knowing what to do but adding, 'It's very important that you do not talk when you evacuate the building. There may be an emergency, and we will need to give you instructions."

Besides the yearly earthquake drill, Salem students respond to a monthly fire drill, and a tornado exercise every three months.

"The students go through a lot of drills, but they take them seriously," principal Johnson said. "We rarely have to get on to them for clowning around."

Johnson believes students respond to teachers who watch closely, and expect students to respond appropriately.

"When we do a fire drill, we time it, and are able to evacuate the building in about 50 seconds," Johnson added.

Superintendent Ken Rich, who was present for the drill, said a tornado scare last spring taught students that, while drills are just practice, they are preparing for real emergencies.

"We were alerted by a spotter that storms were approaching, so we directed students to go to the interior rooms they have been assigned when there is a tornado threat," Rich said.

Since there was no immediate danger, students were directed to stand along walls, but, when Rich and Johnson saw what appeared to be a funnel cloud dropping down, they were ordered to "assume the position," crouch down close to the floor and cover their heads. "They knew what to do, and no one panicked, but you could see "this-is-serious" looks on students' faces," Rich said.

"We told everyone to be calm, that it would be okay," Johnson added. "Thankfully, the funnel went back up into the clouds, but it was very scary."

According to Johnson, a number of parents who were at school to pick up their children, wound up as lock down participants. He says they may have been more frightened than students, since they had probably not been through a tornado preparedness drill in a while.

For the yearly earthquake drill, more than two million students in schools and adults in their workplaces simultaneously practiced how to respond to a quake.

Feb. 7 was chosen for the exercise because that was the date 200 years ago that the last of a series of earthquakes hit the New Madrid region of the Missouri Bootheel and North East Arkansas.

While rivers ran backward and land topography was altered, there was little infrastructure damage back then, because the area was so sparsely populated.

Experts say there is a 25 to 40 percent probability of a major quake in the central U.S. over the next 50 years.

This time, if an earthquake occurs, there will obviously be widespread damage and major disruption to daily life, as buildings, homes, highways and other infrastructure we take for granted is tested.

Some may question the need for regular fire and tornado drills or earthquake preparedness in the central U.S., but not Johnson.

"Hopefully, we are always prepared for an emergency," Johnson said. "We always welcome the chance to review what we need to do to make sure our students are protected."

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