Emergency drills are a part of public school culture.
A majority of my teachers and fellow students have expressed a love-hate relationship for these scheduled alarms. They feel that drills interrupt valuable class time. However, nearly everyone will concede that however annoying they are, they are necessary for the emergency preparedness of the school and its attendees.
If the drill is scheduled during a class I dislike, the drill suddenly becomes a blessing; when I am struggling to stay awake and retain my sanity (and consciousness), I don’t mind the alarms. Actually, the deafening sound of a fire alarm is just about the sweetest sound that could be. However, if the drill forces me to miss a class that I particularly enjoy, it’s more of a disappointment. Either way, an emergency drill means a break from the ceaseless monotony of classwork.
After the initial “OK, line up everyone. Single file. Follow me” comes the herding of more than a thousand students to the football and softball fields. Being caught up in the flowing stream of high school bodies has a mind-numbing effect. I believe the point of these drills is to have students treat them seriously, but I never actually think about the fictional disaster or emergency precisely because it’s fictional. Rather, I find myself in deep reflection.
Once we’re on the field, the drill basically becomes an extended passing period with the exception that all students are assigned a position and are not allowed to move from that spot. Those who are assigned a position near their friends are luckier than those who are not acquainted with anyone in particular around them. The bell eventually sounds and all the students return to their classes.
All this may be fine and harmless, but what if an actual emergency occurs? During the recent earthquake drill, many students in my third period class expressed no interest in participating in an orderly evacuation. A few said they would run off campus. Others said they would disobey orders if they discerned a better option in the moment.
I have never been present during a school-wide fire or enormous earthquake, but it worries me to imagine how potentially disorganized it could be. If asked by a teacher or other authority figure, just about every student would agree that emergency drills are important. Would their behavior be consistent with this notion?
Teachers and administrators should take measures to keep the focus on the emergency at hand, however imaginative, and educate students as to why and how the procedures for emergencies have been set.
For example, during the last drill, our substitute teacher David Haderer instructed us not to crouch beneath our desks, but right next to them. This is because if the roof collapses, the desk will protect you. The one end of the roof will rest on your desk, and the other end on the floor next to you. This will protect you inside the triangle that the roof, floor and side of the desk create; it becomes a makeshift lean-to shelter. Explanations of the physics and reasoning behind procedures may be essential to the effectiveness of these emergency drills.
Emergency drills are certainly here to stay. While I may not fully understand how much of an effect they have on the efficiency of evacuation in an actual emergency, I hope I never have to find out.