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Emergency drills: practice isn’t making perfect

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Students stand in the field behind the school during a fire drill Oct. 24 after taking an hour of the day to practice emergency drills. This day of practice followed a real fire alarm Oct. 23.

Students stand in the field behind the school during a fire drill Oct. 24 after taking an hour of the day to practice emergency drills. This day of practice followed a real fire alarm Oct. 23.

Sabrina Bohn

Sabrina Bohn

Students stand in the field behind the school during a fire drill Oct. 24 after taking an hour of the day to practice emergency drills. This day of practice followed a real fire alarm Oct. 23.

The shrill, deafening sound of the emergency alarm echoes through the halls as students rush towards exits, teachers yelling at them to stay with their class and meet in their designated area. The stairwells are packed with moving students, the thunder of footsteps drowning out what little directions are being given by the faculty. Simply put, it’s chaos. Even as students gather outside the school, the obvious disorganization prevents teachers from find their missing students, and students from finding their classes. Ten minutes and an unaccounted for class later, students and staff are given the all-clear to return to the building, despite the fact that the procedure was never fully completed, and many students were left out all-together.

With the aftermath of school shootings echoing around the country, students are realizing the dangers they could face at school, whether in fear of extreme weather or intruders. Unfortunately, the school is not providing adequate protection and emergency procedure. Besides the added security to the building, we have only practiced one intruder drill this year, compared to the multiple fire drills we’ve had already. Along with that, when drills are practiced, they are often not taken seriously. If students are to feel safe, emergency drill procedures must be updated and further catered to the challenges of today.

Intruder drills must be practiced more frequently, so that our school is prepared in the event of an emergency. While there are more school fires than school shootings across the country per year, the severity and emotional scarring that school shootings leave in their wake simply dwarfs that of school fires, and the significance of intruder drills becomes obvious. The truth is, students are scared. We see pictures of kids just like us that have been killed or injured due to shootings at school, a place where we’re supposed to be physically and emotionally safe. We remember the emotional upheaval after many mass shootings and can list them by name: Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland and so many more. Although the issue of gun violence cannot be solved by the school or district, we can put in place practices, such as practicing intruder drills more often, that will not only make staff and students prepared, but also make them feel safer in the place they must go everyday.

Along with the lack of intruder drills, the insufficient practicality with which they are practiced creates a dangerous environment for students. Emergencies are never expected; that’s why they’re emergencies. In a real situation, students would not be warned the week before, the day of or five minutes prior. Because schools practice them as such, students are left unfamiliar with the chaos of a real emergency when it happens: something they haven’t truly prepared for. Surprise drills must be implemented more frequently to truly test schools’ emergency preparedness. Prior to a fire drill, an administrator is required to notify the Facilities Department to ensure that the alarm reports in an accurate and timely manner. However, there is no rule requiring the faculty to advertise the drill to students. When students become accustomed to warnings and planned drills, the results vary from students abandoning their class to find their friends to some classes remaining unaccounted for and being left out of the final roll call. In some cases, some students are never tracked down, and the drill is decidedly completed despite teachers still looking for their missing class. In the case of a real emergency, students and faculty will lack the real life organization and familiarity necessary to execute the emergency response safely.

In order to truly prepare students for emergency drills, we must also emphasize efficiency and accountability in every drill. During an emergency, students must get to safety quickly, whether that’s out of the building for a fire drill or out of sight during an intruder drill. The staff must ensure that each class and student is accounted for, but with our current apathy towards the execution of these drills and procedures it is much less likely to work smoothly in a potentially dangerous situation. If we don’t start taking drills seriously, neither efficiency nor accountability could be reliably accomplished in a real emergency.

The thought that a school shooting might occur should never have to cross a student’s mind. However, due to recent events, we must think about tragedies like that, and most importantly, we need to be prepared for any emergency–especially an intruder. If the school emphasizes and practices intruder drills and surprise drills more frequently, along with ensuring efficiency in the drills, the security and safety of our school will increase, and we will further be able to live and learn in a safe environment.

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    Emergency drills infographic: policies and procedures

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