‘Red drill’ prepares students, staff for emergency
May 16, 2005
It was a regular day Monday at Bordewich-Bray Elementary School. Students returned from recess out-of-doors, staff went over lessons, teacher Nicole Medeiros wrote the sevens-times-tables on the whiteboard of her third-grade classroom.
Minutes later, it all changed.
Vice Principal Casey Gilles announced the school’s first mock lock-down over the intercom.
“Staff, this is an extended red drill,” she said. “This is an extended red drill. You know what to do.”
The 13 students in Medeiros’ classroom left their desks, walked toward the whiteboard, and lay on the floor. A little whispering at first kept their teacher encouraging them to be quiet.
“You guys are doing exactly what you should do,” Medeiros said. “Just take a seat. There should be zero noise. Zero noise.”
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Medeiros swiftly sprung into action: first locking her two classroom doors and then closing the blinds. Black construction paper already hung over the single window of each classroom door – preparations had been under way most of the morning. In a real lock-down, Medeiros would pull black sheets of papers from a drawer near one of the doors.
Madeiros wrote the name of her one absent student on a sheet of paper and slipped it under the door into the hallway, part of a larger process taking place throughout the school – the accounting of students.
In the rest of the school, students in the hallway were swept into rooms, a volunteer from the sheriff’s office walked through and observed, staff checked bathrooms for students, and pre-appointed volunteers picked up the attendance sheets.
All that could be heard outside the classroom was the momentary passing of someone with a walkie-talkie. After that, the only noise was the shifting bodies on the floor in the classroom, an occasional laugh, the occasional cough and the occasional look of boredom. Medeiros sat near her students in a chair.
“You guys are doing good with zero noise,” she whispered.
After about 25 minutes of silence it was over. Gilles came back on the intercom and informed teachers and students.
“The red drill is complete,” she said. “You did a wonderful job.”
Quickly, as if the drill were little more than a small interruption in their day, Maderios’ students rose from the floor, some saying they were ready for a nap, others saying the drill was boring. Mikaela Powell, 8, said she was glad for the experience.
“If we hadn’t had a drill, we wouldn’t know what to do,” she said on her way to computer class. “And we’d be messing around, instead, (during a real situation) and wouldn’t take it seriously.”
According to Gilles and Principal Susan Keema, research shows that students and adults with experience responding to emergencies use those skills in a real scenario.
“If you’ve practiced (in an emergency), even if it isn’t the exact situation, your brain will kick in with ‘I’ve got to get moving, I’ve got to get to safety,'” said Gilles.
As part of the school’s lock-down plan, each classroom is equipped with a plastic tub full of food, a working flashlight, toilet bags, a whistle, an attendance sheet, duct tape, garbage bags, Weekly Reader magazines and pencils.
“This is a practice,” Gilles said. “One of the things we’re basing it on is that research shows that when people are in something so awful, they tend to shut down if they don’t know what to do.”
To prepare her students for the drill, Medeiros spent 10 minutes Thursday discussing it with her third-graders.
“I didn’t want them to be afraid,” she said. “I want them to be comfortable with what to do.
“I was so proud of them. I think they did extremely well. They followed directions perfectly. It’s a great thing for everyone to be prepared.”
n Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.
Bordewich-Bray Elementary School’s first lock-down went well, according to Principal Susan Keema. Only one classroom lacked black covering on the window of its classroom door. In a scenario with hurt students or teachers, red cards would be put up in those windows alerting emergency personnel that help was needed. Yellow cards would indicate which students were missing and where they might be.
“We have to practice keeping kids safe,” Keema said. “Research shows when a crisis occurs, people really do best with what they know.”
A volunteer deputy suggested two improvements:
n Moving the command center to a room without a window and deeper inside the building so staff communications remain unintelligible to possible assailants in the hallways.
n Improve on ways to account for students, perhaps with walkie-talkies in each classroom, rather than pose physical risk to volunteers who pick up attendance sheets in the hallways.