Schools learned lessons from Nisqually earthquake
February 22, 2011
By Laura Geggel
Kathy Connally remembers sitting at her classroom desk, looking out the window at the students playing during recess, when the earth started shaking 10 years ago.
Her Discovery Elementary School second-grade students were in music class with a teacher who was eighth months pregnant.
“My first through was, ‘Oh my gosh, my kids are out in a portable at music where there are no desks,’” Connally said.
She took cover under her desk, and then ran to the portable, where “My students were all safe and sound. They had stopped, dropped and covered.”
The entire school headed away from the building toward the field, where teachers released students if their parents had come to collect them, and then released the rest at the regular bell time.
“One of my students came back and said, ‘Was that a drill or was that for real?’” Connally said.
At Liberty High School, the earthquake happened during lunch, when some upperclassmen were off campus eating at restaurants. After the quake, students reported to their first period class on football field where teaches took attendance.
“What was unfortunate at that time was there really wasn’t a strong protocol of what to do next,” said Jane Harris, a Liberty teacher at the time.
Many of the students who had left campus for lunch returned to school, but found the door locked. Eventually, they were able to make their way onto the football field and the teachers took charge.
Emotions were running high for parents that day and the pick-up process was a little chaotic. At Briarwood Elementary School, teacher Stephanie Mayo remembered how many parents were panicked and crying.
The fact that the Nisqually earthquake was only two years after the Columbine High School shooting may have added to their distress, said Harris, now a Maywood Middle School assistant principal.
“They were completely different disasters, but parents were concerned,” she said.
Connally, now the principal at Endeavour Elementary School, said she could not think of a better place than a school to be during an earthquake, where drills are the norm and emergency supplies are on hand.
“Honestly, it’s pretty incredible that when things like that happen, we step up to the plate and take lessons learned seriously,” she said.
Many schools in Issaquah School District partner with their PTAs or PTSAs to create an emergency supply center, housed in a giant container that can double as an emergency area for wounded people.
“It’s a real incident command center,” Connally said.
At Endeavour, teachers are assigned roles during drills and emergencies. Staffers make flow charts so each knows where he or she is supposed to be, whether they are someone who checks the bathrooms for students or a teacher running triage at the emergency container station.
During drills at Maywood, some teachers pretend that they are wounded and parent volunteers act as if they are crazed because they cannot find their child, Harris said.
“We do as many scenarios as we can,” she said. “Sometimes kids forget that it’s just pretend.”
Now, schools have a student release station, which saves parents the trouble of trying to find their child on the field amidst the entire school population. At Endeavour, secretaries man the booths, and have forms addressing which parents can pick up which children.
Practice makes perfect
Schools practice fire, lockdown and earthquake drills at least once a month, rotating between the three.
Briarwood teacher Jennet Liljenquist said she learned to always lock her cupboards after books and other materials fell out of hers in the Nisqually quake. She said the school’s evacuation route changed, too, and now students walk away from the building and away from areas under cover, in case of aftershocks.
The routes are posted on the walls for all to see, including substitute teachers.
At Endeavour, Connally gets on the intercom and says, “Staff and students, we are now going to practice an earthquake drill. Imagine the ground is shaking. It’s time for you to stop, drop and cover. Please look to your teacher.”
After waiting a minute, “I get back on and say, ‘Okay the ground has stopped shaking. It is now safe to evacuate the building,’” Connally said.
Teachers grab emergency classroom backpacks and colored cards. Once they reach the field, the hold up either a green card if they have all of their students or a red card if they are missing students.
Teachers also buddy with other teachers, with one leading two classes and the other at the caboose, making sure there are no stragglers.
Eastside Fire & Rescue helps with the drills, and sometimes throw in a few tricks. They might take a student elsewhere and see if the teachers notice they are missing a child.
“It’s really good for us because in an emergency there is always the unexpected,” Connally said. “We feel like we want to be on our toes.”