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Thursday, September 16, 2010

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The bell tolls for fire drills.

The shrill shriek of the buzzer and bell system signalled two fire drills, one this morning and another in the afternoon. We are required to conduct eight fire drills between the start of the school year and December 1st, and four other drills before the close of the school year. Safety is a major issue when one considers there are over 370 people in the school and the fact that the population is spread over three different floors of the building. Each drill follows a prepared protocol and the practice is timed. Two minutes and forty six seconds transpired before the building was completely evacuated during the first drill of the year. We have many children new to the school, either newly enrolled transfers from other schools or Kindergarten learners who just started school. Their experience with the initial drill showed up when we scheduled another drill later in the day. It took only two minutes and nineteen seconds  for the school to empty out the second time.

Efficient organization and effective communication are the key elements that combine to ensure a safe drill and careful preparation in the event we ever experience a fire. Toward that goal, specific roles are assigned to staff members and clear channels of communication are implemented. Our next drill will involve a blocked exit to check on the ability of staff and learners to react when they are prevents from using their primary route of egress due to an imaginary fire. Safety is not always convenient. By that, I mean a real emergency will occur without observing the weather, the temperature, or the time of the day. Although it was a beautiful day today, an actual fire could happen during a rain storm, during brutally cold temperatures, or right in the middle of lunch. We must be prepared, and that's why we hold these drills.

We will acknowledge Fire Prevention Week next month by cooperating with the Green Island Fire Department on a joint exercise that will offer both organizations an opportunity to test their skills. We will introduce a change in procedures during a drill that week to determine the ability of our staff to quickly and accurately account for all children and adults in the building. We will then report the findings to the fire-fighters so they can respond in a search of the building for missing people. That will be an important challenge for the emergency responders and require them to become familiar with the building, since a real fire would likely cause panic and children who have become separated from their class/adult may seek refuge anywhere in a building - particularly a building with so many nooks and crannies. Our staff must rapidly examine their rosters, check who is absent - maybe someone on their way to the nurse's office when the alarm sounded, or someone who had been dismissed earlier for a dental appointment.... This process must account for visitors, volunteers, substitutes, interns, and student teachers. You can imagine how this can be complicated and why we practice. Following the special drill involving area fire-fighters, our Safe Schools Committee will seek feedback from the department that will allow us to make certain that safety remains a primary focus. The fire department personnel will report open classroom windows that could feed oxygen to a growing fire, locked doors that could impede access by fire-fighters searching the building, and any other factor that could be improved in our emergency response plans.

Today's blog is meant to build your confidence in our emergency plans. We'll discuss our lock-down drill at a later date. In addition, we'd also like you to realize that an effective school is involved in addressing far more issues, and meeting many more challenges, than simply teaching the 3 R's of Reading, 'riting, and 'rithematic.

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