Highland Elementary stages school wide earthquake drill

Students orderly follow thier teacher from their classroom to the blacktop during Monday's disaster drill at Highlands Elementary School in Saugus, Calif. Ryan Painter/The Signal.

Instead of filing paperwork or reporting tardy slips, the front office staff at Highlands Elementary School in Saugus spent Monday morning taking inventory of emergency vests, packing first-aid equipment and fitting hard-hats gently to their heads.

Teachers, instead of beginning the day’s warmups, called out children’s names one by one to ensure they had made it safely out of the buildings and onto the damp basketball court. 

Highlands Elementary staff coordinate their emergency response efforts at Monday’s disaster drill. Ryan Painter/The Signal.

This was the scene at Highlands Elementary School on Monday morning for a disaster drill, during which the school’s buildings were evacuated, and hundreds of students and faculty were put to work on search and rescue details.

The drill was aimed at preparing an efficient response in the event of an earthquake.

At 8:10 a.m., said Principal Susan Bender, students were asked to take cover under their desks.

“Cover and hold,” she instructed students over the school’s PA system.

Bender subsequently told the school that it was safe for students to emerge from beneath their desks, at which time teachers led their classrooms out to designated locations on the blacktop.

Children typically file out to the field, said Bender, “but since it’s a little damp this morning we’re going to the basketball courts.” 

Under the leadership of third- and fourth-grade teacher Jill Benz, students were organized into color groups where they were accounted for by staff. 

Monday’s earthquake drill was a school-wide affair. Students pitched in laying tarps across the blacktop. Ryan Painter/The Signal.

Much to students’ dismay, teachers did not permit Monday’s drill to become an extra hour of de facto recess. Rather, students were put to work reading, writing and completing multiplication tables.

Teachers not assigned to the blacktop were assembled into two search and rescue teams. 

Dan Kurtz, fifth grade teacher at Highlands, conducts a search and rescue sweep at the school’s disaster drill on Monday, Nov. 27, 2017. Ryan Painter/The Signal.

The teams swept through each classroom, where they practiced assessing the baseline structural integrity of the buildings and searching for injured students.

No students were placed with mock injuries for Monday’s drill, Bender confirmed. However, she did explain that the school’s December drill will feature students with simulated injuries that staff will have to address.

A Highland student colors while his teachers practice emergency response skills at the school’s disaster drill on Monday. Ryan Painter/The Signal.

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