Archive for Wednesday, April 26, 2006

This is only a test

School district safely evacuates students in Monday’s disaster drill

April 26, 2006

Jerry Daskoski hopes he'll never have to use the plan the school district practiced Monday.

Monday morning, as an emergency preparedness drill, about 1,600 Tonganoxie students, from kindergarten through high school, and the school employees, were evacuated from their buildings.

"We hope that it never is for real," said Daskoski, elementary school principal, "but in our day and age there's no telling."

The disaster drill was built around the scenario that a tanker truck overturned and was sending out a cloud of dangerous gas.

Parents and students knew about Monday's drill ahead of time. And it involved the Tonganoxie Police Department, the Leavenworth County sheriff's office, Tonganoxie city fire department and the county's emergency management office.

"They've included a lot of folks in their planning process to make sure, if they have an incident -- a bomb threat, a gas leak, or other hazards -- they are truly prepared," said Chuck Magaha, director of emergency management.

A plan is one thing, Magaha said. Carrying it out is another.

"You have it down on paper that you would take them (students) to X spot," Magaha said. "But is it really going to work in reality, and do you have your resources available at a short notice?"

The school district's plan called for busing grade school students to the fairgrounds. Junior high and high school students were to walk to a nearby park.

To make the situation more lifelike, bus drivers were asked to go about their normal business, Daskoski said, noting school officials estimated 14 or 15 buses would be needed.

"They told them to go ahead and have a typical day -- don't sit in your bus in your driveway waiting for the call," Daskoski said.

The phone call from the board office, starting the drill, came in shortly after 9 a.m.

"Within 15 minutes there were probably eight to 10 buses that were out here," Daskoski said, noting the rest soon arrived.

Rains dampened, but didn't postpone the event.

And students took their part seriously. They left the elementary school building in silence, boarded the school buses in silence and amazingly, all 800-some students packed about two-thirds of the fairgrounds administration building -- in silence.

"It was quiet," Daskoski said. "I was like whoo, this is quieter than even when the red light goes off in the lunchroom. We were so pleased and so impressed with the behavior of our students and their conduct. They did take it seriously and they did do the things we asked them to do."

The drill went like clockwork and about an hour after it began, students were back in their classrooms.

Magaha said he doesn't know of any other school districts in the county that have practiced such detailed evacuation plans.

"I was very impressed with Dr. Erickson," Magaha said. "He was committed to do this exercise ... to take every one of his students and have them transported or walk to a specific site and have them all accounted for, it's just phenomenal."

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