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Schools stage mock disaster
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer
A simulated tornado striking Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School on Tuesday put Henry County School employees and others to the test.
The tornado was part of a mock emergency drill designed to “make sure that all of our schools are prepared for crisis,” said Henry County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jared Cotton.
The activity better prepared the school system to respond to and recover from emergency and crisis situations, and it allowed the school system to see first-hand what protocols should be in place during a crisis, he added.
Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School was closed to the public during the drill. Those who participated in the exercise took on the roles of parents, students and teachers, according to Linda Dorr, assistant superintendent of administration and human resources for the county schools. She was among those in the command center.
As part of the drill, the day started as a regular school day. At about 9 a.m., a tornado warning was issued, and teachers and staff ordered students to enter the hallways and assume the duck and cover position of kneeling on the floor with their heads down and arms covering their heads.
Shortly after that, the mock tornado struck. The electricity immediately went out.
Obstacles were thrown in to see how staff and teachers reacted, Dorr said. For instance, an exit was blocked and teachers reacted by immediately taking the planned alternate routes, said Phillip Byrd, guidance counselor and member of the crisis team at Collinsville Primary.
Also simulated was the reuniting of parents and the students, organizing a staging area for the media and how to handle closed roads, Dorr said.
There were mock casualties as well during the drill so that fire, rescue and police could learn how to best transport injured students from the school, Dorr said. Due to the mock casualties, there were counselors present to deal with concerned parents, Dorr added.
The drill “was a really good hands-on experience,” Byrd said.
At Collinsville Primary, the crisis team meets about five times throughout the school year, and the way all of the crisis team members reacted to the drill showed that the training and meetings have been effective, Byrd added.
“I feel much more prepared after today,” Dorr said.
The main thing that the school system learned from the drill was “that communication is so vital,” she said.
Everyone including fire, rescue, police and school staff had radios and communicated constantly with those in the command center, Dorr added.
There may be areas that could be improved on, and they will be listed in an upcoming final report. For instance, Dorr said she noticed that the process of reuniting parents and students could have gone more smoothly, although she did not say how.
Employees from all the county schools were represented in the drill, Cotton said.
The mock drill was a culminating activity of the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools grant received by the county schools, according to a news release.
In addition to the school system, others participating in the mock emergency drill were the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, Piedmont Community Services, Henry/Martinsville Health Department for the West Piedmont District and Henry County Department of Public Safety, the news release said.
Having so many participants in the mock drill shows how the process of responding to a crisis is a community effort, Cotton said.
There will be more mock drills conducted in the future as the school system continues to upgrade its emergency preparedness plans, he added.