GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Students at Mulick Park Elementary School in Grand Rapids practiced their second and final tornado drill of the year on Tuesday, just one day after a deadly tornado swept through the Oklahoma City area.
The drill brought many questions back to the forefront of students' minds at Mulick Park Elementary.
"We don't like to typically do drills the day after a major event," Assistant Superintendent Larry Johnson explained. "But it's also a good reminder to do them. You have to find that good balance line."
"A lot of our students had heard on the news yesterday about the Oklahoma situation and they knew that there had been students that had died," second grade teacher Jill Gleason said. "They wondered what would happen if a tornado was at our school. They wondered why there was school if there was the possibility of a tornado coming."
Tuesday's drill allowed teachers like Gleason to address more of those questions.
"It's a reality. [The kids] know people who die. They know people who die from injuries and crimes and its just one of the things that's a reality for them, and it's about hopefully knowing that when you take precautions you can be safe," said Gleason. "Kids today have to be prepared, probably more so than when we were little."
The surprise drill began at just before 11 a.m. Tuesday An alarm and an announcement told teachers and kids to leave their rooms and head to a pre-designated spot on one of the school's interior walls.
Students in one of the three portable classrooms immediately came into the main building. Assistant Superintendent Larry Johnson said those classrooms only need about two to three minutes of advance notice to be able to get in the main building and get into position.
Students are told to crouch along interior walls, away from high-ceilinged gyms and media centers and also away from glass windows that could turn into projectiles.
Johnson said students are also told to bring books this them that can cover their heads and necks. He said the goal is to protect those areas from any falling debris.
"We try to do the drills as less intrusive as possible and we don't over-drill, because we don't want kids to become desensitized by over-drilling," Johnson said.
Johnson said Mulick Park Elementary does have a lower level or basement area, but severe weather drills do not send kids down there. Johnson said they may send kids to the basement if there was a confirmed, extreme weather event, but they don't include it in drills because they don't want to scare students.
"There is an opportunity in some buildings to take them into a lower level, a basement, but those areas would really scare kids if we did a drill in those areas," said Johnson. "So we think we are in the safest place right now."
When 24 Hour News 8 asked Johnson if lack of drilling with the basement would cause confusion if there was a severe weather event where it needed to be used, he said he didn't think so.
"Because you have the capable adults and you are talking about very qualified teachers in the district, and across the country, so teachers know that they're protective of young people and because they know that they're going to do everything they can to keep these kids safe," Johnson said. "And they will follow the lead we give them."
Johnson said the school buildings themselves are safe areas. He pointed to the construction of older schools.
"This building has believed to be safe construction," said Johnson. "Particularly those buildings that are 30, 40, 50 years old. Cinder block from floor to ceiling," said Johnson. "I believe the construction of a school, based on the construction of a house, I would rather be in a facility such as a school in view of a tornado in this community."
Johnson said a parent can always remove their kid from school in a severe weather situation, but he doesn't advise it.
"A parent can come take their kids, we advise them that the safest places is probably the school. Maybe even little safer than houses because [of] the construction of a school, but if a parent insists on taking their kid out of the building, we're not going to stop that. What we're going to do is offer them shelter inside of the building as well," he said.
Johnson also pointed out that an actual severe weather situation is much different than other situations like security threats.
"Most times it's not one school that goes into a tornado shelter," said Johnson. "Unlike a lockdown drill, it's the entire district. So we've got over 70 buildings in lockdown or in shelter in place during severe weather."
He also said in case of a severe weather situation, GRPS security monitors weather radios, Doppler radars and local TV station forecasts until those personnel have to take cover.
More information on drill codes:
Safe Schools Drill Packet (pdf)
State Board Policies on Safe Schools (pdf)
More information from the Michigan Department of Education:
The Emergency Management Act (1976 PA 390) (pdf) does address
evacuation/other techniques for "the preservation of life or other mitigation, response, or recovery activities" but does not specifically address emergencies in schools.
The Fire Prevention Code (1941 PA 207) addresses all of the drills that the schools must conduct yearly and specifically cites the Emergency Management Act in that it requires the local emergency coordinator, appointed under that act, to be involved with the coordination of drills to ensure compliance with federal, state and local emergency operations plans.
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