As a middle school student with a long history of performing obligatory emergency drills, my daughter has occasionally offered me her opinion on disaster preparedness in school. So, this year, when Take Your Child to Work Day rolled around, I thought I’d give her the opportunity to share it with DR readers, as well. Please read on to hear what Sage Nye, age 12, has to say about the efficacy of how we prepare students for the unexpected. —Jolie Breeden, Editor, DR
Kids are taught to trust the adults around us. But what do we do when the decisions they make aren’t always the best? When it comes to a natural or manmade disaster, it’s very important to know what’s happening and what to do. The problem is, the people we rely on to supply us with that information don’t always know it themselves. In the event of a tornado or an earthquake, students turn to their teachers to tell them what’s happening and where they need to be. But can they actually do that? And if so, are they doing it right? The mission of every school should be to protect their children, but if we can’t do that, how can we start?
We’re very spread out as far as nationwide safety requirements go. Based on the security drill requirements from Long Branch Public Schools, some schools in New Jersey aren’t even required to do tornado or hurricane drills. They only need to do fire drills. Whereas, according to Team Safe-T, places like California tend to have better disaster drill routines than areas that don’t have to worry about earthquakes or similar disasters.
This just shows how disconnected we are. If we were all on the same page, our system would be more powerful. For instance, during tornado drills, my school makes us sit in the hallway under our glass skylight. If a tornado actually ripped through the school, we wouldn’t be safe—just ask Joplin schools about that!
Considering it’s my safety at risk, I’d like to know who decides where we go in an emergency, and what qualifies them to do so. But when I researched it, it was fairly hard to find out. As far as nationwide requirements, I didn't find much more than all schools have to do fire drills. I think kids should know who makes these decisions. We have a right to know whose hands our safety is in. Even after a lot of looking, I don't totally know.
Another problem is that we’ve been drilled to death. The drill routine is so important, but to us it’s the same old drill. In my experience, almost no one takes it seriously. They think that because it's just a drill, they don't need to be on top of it. Everyone just talks until it's over.
As teachers, parents, and students, we must know exactly where to be, and what to be doing. Students need to be aware of the seriousness that goes into a drill. Right now, its just practice, but the next time it may not be. And stressing that to kids is the teachers’ job.
Making kids part of a drill could help. It’s in our nature to want to be well informed. We need to know what’s going on and we want to ask questions—but we’re often told no “what if” questions. Those can easily be the most important ones! One of these days, the “what if” is going to happen and no one is going to know how to respond.
If students had a genuine understanding of what happens during a disaster, we might be able to have more involvement on what to do when it strikes. We might need to make our own decisions and we need the information to make the right ones if the disaster doesn’t match the drill.
Although there are some problems, at least we’re heading in the right direction. Thirty years ago, lockdown drills didn’t exist (but then again, neither did mass school shootings). The point is, just because we’re not there yet, doesn’t mean we never will be. We’ll get there, one tornado drill at a time!
—Sage Nye is a sixth grader in the St. Vrain Valley School District. Although hazards and disasters aren’t her primary interests, she’s studied them by osmosis from a very young age.