MCPS holds disaster practice on serious scenario for students, families

2011-02-24T22:27:00Z 2011-02-25T06:00:26Z MCPS holds disaster practice on serious scenario for students, familiesBy JAMIE KELLY of the Missoulian missoulian.com
February 24, 2011 10:27 pm  • 

Fewer than 30 minutes passed between the sounding of the alarm and the first reunion of mother and child.

Granted, it was hardly a real-world disaster that visited Franklin Elementary School on Thursday morning. And granted, some of the parents of Franklin's 270 pupils were already waiting for their children to arrive at the evacuation headquarters, Sentinel High School.

Still, those running the Missoula County Public Schools district's first "reunification drill" say it was a glowing success, the first test of the district's plan of response in case of a major emergency in a school building.

The alarm sounded at 9:30 a.m. at Franklin. At 10:05, Betty Bennett grabbed a microphone and addressed the teachers, students, parents, administrators and volunteers in Sentinel's gym.

"Watching other school disasters nationally, it's really evident to me which districts have a plan and which don't," said Bennett, a Sentinel teacher and head of MCPS' Safer Schools committee. "We want to be one that does."

This was no routine fire drill.

Four school buses parked outside Franklin were waiting to transport nearly 300 students, who filed out after the alarm was tripped by principal Mike Williams.

Within 15 minutes, the students began walking into Sentinel's gym, finding their way to large signs printed with their teachers' names.

MCPS nurse Linda Simon and Sentinel LPN Angie Gulick stood ready at the first-aid station.

"This is a drill for something that requires a major evacuation - a fire, or an earthquake on that side of town," said Simon. "So a lot of this is to drill the staff, the bus system and the schools."

A handful of parents agreed to participate in the drill, showing up to be reunited with their son or daughter. That tested the check-in crew, who first asked "Are you here to pick up your kiddo?" before demanding a photo ID, looking up the student's name and teacher and sending a gopher to go fetch the child.

One of the parents was Kim McGuire, whose two daughters go to Franklin.

She called the drill "really well organized."

"In case it ever did happen for real, I know that I would need a picture ID, and know where to go and what to expect," said McGuire. "That's my first priority is to find my kids."

The effort involved numerous teachers, and even a few teenagers at Sentinel High School, who helped fetch each child.

"We're using some of our students to pick up the slack," said Sentinel dean of students Scott Whaley. "In a real situation, we'd pull them out of class."

Williams, the Franklin principal, sits on the Safer Schools committee, and said this first drill will be followed by at least one other in the spring. And eventually, the district will evacuate an entire middle school, whose enrollments are far greater than Franklin's 270.

"That's why we want to start small," he said.

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