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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Mock disaster helps students, staff prepare for the worst

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Roachdale Elementary school students hurry from the building during an evacuation. The school was the mock disaster site of a direct tornado hit Tuesday morning.
Brooke Smith huddled in the hallway of Roachdale Elementary with burns over her face and arms while emergency responders worked on her wounds during a mock tornado disaster drill at the school early Tuesday morning.

In the background it was eerily quiet as students remained balled up on the hallway floors with their heads covered by their arms. One small preschooler was sobbing as teachers comforted her.

Dr. Veronica Dorsch, triaged an injured boy lying in the hallway of school, calling for a neck brace to stabilize his head.

A "seriously wounded student" is transported out of Roachdale Elementary School during a mock disaster Tuesday morning. In the background Roachdale firefighter Chad Crum keeps tabs on emergency personnel entering and leaving the building by using a "checkerboard."
Roachdale firefighter Chad Crum stood outside the front entrance to the building quickly moving pieces of Velcro from column to column as he tracked every emergency responder entering and leaving the building.

North Putnam Community School Corporation coordinates a mock disaster every year at one of the schools. This year Roachdale Elementary received a direct hit from a tornado leaving ten children injured and 310 students and staff being evacuated to the Roachdale Christian Church a few blocks away.

Within 35 minutes of a call from Principal Helen Blubaum to Emergency Dispatchers at Putnam County 911 the school was evacuated, injured children assessed and the all clear signal given by Roachdale Fire Chief Mike Poole.

Responders and emergency personnel arrived at the school from Bainbridge, Russellville, Roachdale and Putnam County Operation Life. More than 25 emergency personnel participated in the event.

"We found out we needed more help," said Poole after the event. "We needed two teams, one to evacuate students and one to help injured students," he reported.

"This is one of the reasons we do these type of drills so we can be as well prepared as possible when the real thing hits," he declared.

Once the all clear was declared, bus drivers who were also part of the disaster drill returned students to the school.

A debriefing meeting attended by emergency and school personnel looked at the drill and considered what went well and what needed improvement.

Poole mentioned the need for more emergency responders, adding that in a real disaster it was likely they would have more help from areas such as Danville and Avon.

There was a minor glitch with establishing radio transmission channels, which is easily fixed according to school administration. Communication between the Church where the children were relocated and the disaster site had some issues that school personnel will address with their radio provider

"All in all communication went pretty well between everyone," reported Poole.

The entire debriefing groups were quick to praise the behavior of the children.

"They were so well-behaved, walked quietly and in single file to the church two blocks away. They were quiet while waiting for the all clear. Even the bus drivers praised their behavior on the bus ride back to the school," reported North Putnam Middle School Principal Terry Tippen.

"And the staff were just great," added Blubaum.

Since July 1961, Putnam County has had more than 20 tornadoes touch down. Bainbridge and Roachdale have had both F3 and F2 storms strike within miles of town centers. On February 7 this year winds destroyed barns and buildings including the Bainbridge Fire Department headquarters.

"Being prepared for a tornado to hit a school just makes sense," remarked one firefighter. "You don't want it to happen, but you sure want to be prepared to take care of the kids if it does."

At the beginning of the drill as administrators and staff waited in the hallway for responders to enter the building and begin assessing and evacuating children, School Secretary Vicki Windmiller spoke in a hushed voice.

"I'm tearing up just thinking about all the kids. Even though it's a mock disaster I could cry," she stated.

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