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Posted October 18, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Local schools participate in Great ShakeOut

By Kim Walter

Students in Warren and Shenandoah counties were among 19.2 million people worldwide participating in the Great ShakeOut at 10:18 a.m. on Thursday.

The event encourages schools, businesses and even individuals to practice responses to earthquakes through three simple steps: Drop, cover and hold on.

Out of the 1.7 million people particiapting in the Southeast Great ShakeOut, which includes Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Washington D.C., Virginia had more than 960,000 people registered to take part in the drill. Last year, more than 12 million people around the world participated.

Each year, the drill takes place on the third Thursday of October, and to go along with the randomness of earthquakes, the time to drop, cover and hold on corresponds with the date. Southeast states joined the drill this year after the 2011 Virginia earthquake, which was centered in Louisa County and felt as far away as southern Canada.

Both counties work closely with their sheriff's offices when it comes to all drills in schools.

Michael Hirsch, director of Special Services for Warren County Public Schools, said the system meets with the sheriff's department and their crisis management team on a monthly basis to go over different scenarios in the county, and how residents should be prepared.

"They help us with tornado, earthquake and lockdown drills in each school," he said. "We also work closely with fire and rescue. They've helped us to develop individual plans for students with disabilities or mobility limitations ... it's very important to us that all students are prepared," Hirsch said.

The county recently held lockdown drills for all students, during which they practiced how to respond to an intruder or suspicious person in the building. Hirsch said that this particular drill is a bit more difficult to handle, only because it can frighten younger students.

"It's not a new situation, but the sheriff's department is very sensitive to the fact that the drills need to be presented in an age-appropriate manner," Hirsch said.

The support of organizations like local law enforcement, fire and rescue and even the nearby hospital are vital to safety preparedness, he added.

"The hospital has helped us by training staff members in each building in CPR, first aid, food allergies, care for kids with diabetes and students who have seizures," he said. While the drills themselves aren't that different from how they've been over the last few years, the collaboration in our county over the drills has changed. These ongoing meetings provide a mechanism for communication, and it's never been better."

Shenandoah County also works with the sheriff's department school resource officers, who are always onsite during drills to help moderate and ensure best practices.

"The intent is to prepare students in the event that the drill is necessary ... we're not trying to just surprise them and see how they react," said Superintendent B. Keith Rowland. Principals at county schools -- especially at the elementary level -- make sure students know that the drills are just that.

"I think it's important, especially with the younger students," he said. "Of course, the hope is that you never actually have to use the drills."

Rowland also said that the drills haven't changed much, but the frequency of them has increased.

"Fire drills, bus evacuations, lockdowns, tornadoes ... you name them, we do them, and we do them as often as they're required," he said. "Years ago, we weren't necessarily doing as many, but it's just another way of becoming better prepared."

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com


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