Schools all over California conducted earthquake drills Thursday morning for the Great California ShakeOut.
More than 9 million people statewide participated in the simultaneous drill, and K-12 schools had students drop, take cover and hold on to tables and desks before evacuating onto basketball courts and fields.
This method is taught to students because studies show that it’s much more likely for someone to be injured by falling or flying objects than to die in a collapsed building, according to the ShakeOut organization.
At La Colina Junior High School, the faculty and staff ushered students out to the basketball courts after ducking and covering and kept constant contact with radios. Several students were “injured,” so teachers and staff did triage while others swept classrooms, supervised lines of children and accounted for every single person on campus.
Principal David Ortiz said it’s extremely important to stick to the plan, since everyone has a designated role.
His campus conducts monthly emergency drills and has a disaster preparedness team, with alternating emergencies (such as toxic spills, earthquakes, fires and school disturbances) and times so students and staff don’t get complacent, he said.
“We’ve really taken this to heart,” Ortiz said. “We’re very effective, but there’s always room for improvement.”
He said principals all get updates from their staff and then report to Santa Barbara Unified School District communications director Barbara Keyani.
La Colina even has a fully stocked disaster preparedness shed, and the Food Services Department keeps enough snacks on hand to hold the school over for a few days, Ortiz said.
“When the real thing hits … the tough thing is, no one is ever as prepared as they should be,” he said.
In Tracy Womack’s mathematics class, students ducked under tables and held onto the metal legs while the bells rang out and announcements described the “damage” from the earthquake, complete with windows breaking and light bulbs falling from the ceiling.
“Do it correctly and get all the way under the tables — I know for some of you it will be squishy,” she told her students. “If things were falling I would not want you dead. I care about you.”
Teachers led students to the blacktop after a few minutes and made sure to grab Red Cross first aid kits and classroom lockdown kits on the way out.
Radio in hand, Ortiz checked in with the district and kept an eye on the hundreds of students on the basketball courts.
He said schools spend a lot more time talking about instruction, but public safety should be the No. 1 priority.
“We’re looking at my mission right now," he said. "Those are all somebody’s kids.”