Drop, cover, and hold on: ShakeOut drills schoolkids
on October 15, 2009
One hundred eighty-three 6th, 7th, and 8th graders at the Julia Morgan School for Girls filed into the hallway, many of them making small talk, giggling excitedly behind covered mouths, whispering into the ears of girls next to them. It was passing period and a certain energy pulsated through the air, the kind that can only be found when large numbers of adolescent girls are in close proximity to one another.
But the hushed tones and excited laughter came to an abrupt halt when a drill horn went off once, and then again seconds later. The first piercing blow paralyzed every moving body in the corridor and the second prompted a unanimous startled jump from the girls who motioned quickly as if they were about to go into action. They only needed to take a moment to recall what sort of action was required.
The ear-splitting noise marked that it was ShakeOut time, the second annual statewide earthquake drill that nearly 5.5 million Southern Californians took part in last year. Nine schools in Oakland registered to participate in this year’s ShakeOut drill, which had extended its coverage into Northern California. The drill takes place at 10:15 a.m. on the third Thursday of October—the same week as the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake—and is intended to help prepare schools, families, and organizations in the event of another big temblor.
“We thought this would be a teachable moment for the girls,” said Sandra Luna, the Head of School, who signed the school up after finding out about it through Mills College. “We’re always assuming that in the case of an emergency your adrenaline will start going and you can easily lose focus, so it’s a really important piece that it becomes second nature.”
Many of the girls squeezed in next to each other under doorways and looked expectantly at teachers for instructions. Others dove under tables and benches, hiding their heads and necks under clasped hands. One girl with shoulder-length brown hair, who was lagging behind slightly, tried to wedge her feet under a bench under which two other girls had taken refuge; Luna quickly corrected her position, telling her to turn her body around so her head was protected under the bench instead of just her feet. The girl adjusted her position, her lanky legs quickly spinning around in one motion.
Then came the sound of the horn announcing that the practice quake had ended. Teachers began motioning the girls into an ordered line and escorted them out of the Spanish-style Julia Morgan building and onto the impeccably-manicured, vibrant green lawn at the front of the school. The private junior high school, located in the east Oakland Hills on the Mills College campus, has an all-girl student body and was named after the architect Julia Morgan, who designed the building. Luna said that when they moved into the building ten years ago, they were inspired to name it after Morgan because of the role she played in paving the way for professional women. Morgan was the first woman to graduate from the College of Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley and the first licensed female architect in the State of California.
Once all the girls were out on the lawn, Darlene Bell-Carson, the Admissions and Financial Aid Manager, took on her assigned role for the drill, going around to each class to make sure everyone of the 183 students and 21 faculty members were accounted for. As Bell-Carson conducted the count, Kim Hubner, the school’s Development Director, took on her designated role of ensuring that a viable source of outbound communication was intact. An emergency landline telephone with an extension cord that spanned the length of the front lawn was brought out, and Hubner tested it, making sure it was in working order. Once the counts were made and everything was under control, students and faculty were given the O.K. to start making their way back into the building. The drill had been a success, Luna said.
The ShakeOut drill was run through the Earthquake Country Alliance, which is comprised of supporting agencies like the California Department of Education and the United States Geological Survey. It’s also currently the only one of its kind in California, according to Mark Bencien, Director for Outreach at the Southern California Earthquake Center. The nonprofit receives funding from FEMA and California Emergency Management Agencies. This year they registered over 7 million participants and they’re expecting even more for 2010, said Lance Webster, a spokesperson for ShakeOut.
Luna said the girls were excited about the drill. “I had one girl who came in this morning and asked, ‘Are we doing it? Is it at 10:15 a.m.?’ I think it’s really important for the girls to know they’re a part of the bigger whole and they’re part of a larger community.”
Photography by Paige Ricks
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