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The Great California ShakeOut

Kids, teachers take part in statewide earthquake-preparation drill

Posted: October 21, 2010 10:24 p.m.
Updated: October 22, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Second-grade students duck and cover under their desks at Meadows Elementary School in Valencia on Thursday during the Great California ShakeOut earthquake drill.

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The imaginary earthquake hit at 10:21 a.m. Thursday.

And, when it hit (by the principal’s official announcement), students at Meadows Elementary School did precisely what they are expected to do in the event of a real earthquake: They dropped, covered and held.

At exactly 10:21 a.m. Thursday, many students in Santa Clarita Valley and across the state, took part in Great California ShakeOut earthquake drill for emergency preparedness.

Fourteen schools in the Saugus Union School District, including those in its special-education program, also took part in the drill.

“It was a huge success,” said Keith Karzin, the district’s director of safety and risk management. “We did the whole ‘drop, cover and hold,’ and then evacuated the building.”

Students at schools in the William S. Hart Union High School District did not take part in the annual exercise, but they are expected to carry out their own “shake-out” drill on a date yet to be determined, said district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker.

Over at Meadows, the drill went smoothly and efficiently.

When second-grade students in Dr. Patricia Porter’s class heard the words “drop, drop, drop,” they calmly and quickly got under their desks, and curled up, foreheads on knees.

And, when they heard Meadows Principal Chad Rose tell them on the school intercom to “please evacuate the building,” they stood up, formed a line, paraded out of the classroom and out of the school, meeting at the far end of the school playground, near Lochmoor Road.

Once every student was accounted for, the teacher filled out and submitted an attendance form to staff manning a central operations post near the school.

Rose and a couple of school officials at the central post kept in constant radio contact with Newhall School District staff.

While all students sat waiting along the school’s periphery, a dozen pre-appointed teachers donned bright pink vests and went into search-and-rescue mode.

They divided into two search-and-rescue groups that began combing every room inside the school.

Team A checked one half of the school, Team B the other half.

“In the event of a real earthquake, they would do what they’re doing now — going through each classroom, each bathroom, opening each closet, looking for anyone who could have been injured,” Rose explained.

Each search-and-rescue team had a teacher assigned to monitor them.

Porter, who lived through the San Fernando earthquake of 1971 and the Northridge quake of 1994, monitored Team A.

“Each quake was in the early morning,” she said, waiting for Team A to emerge from the school. “I remember being very scared of being on the second floor of our school.”

Porter described herself as being “pretty much” at ground zero for the Northridge quake, living in Granada Hills at the time, showing up every morning after the quake for rations of water.

“The ’71 quake was rolling,” she said, then shaking her head. “But the Northridge quake was a jolt.”

She demonstrated this by punching a fist straight into the air.

Porter said earthquake drills like the Great California ShakeOut are extremely useful for students.

In 1994, when the Northridge quake hit, the entire ceiling of the Meadows school collapsed.

No one was inside the school at the time, so none of the students were hurt in the ceiling collapse.

As teams A and B finished their search of the school and its adjacent portables, Rose waited for a radio call from the district.

Rose listened to the radio chatter, punctuated by a woman’s voice saying: “No leaking gas, no reports of fire.”

Within 10 minutes, the same woman on the radio contacted Rose by walkie-talkie and asked for his school’s status.

Rose was proud to report it went smoothly.

“I’m very pleased with all our students,” he said after the drill. “They know what to do because we do drills once a month.”

Just before he gave the “all-clear” announcement, Rose pointed to the school’s outer edge.

“Look how they’re sitting there quietly, reading their books, calm and organized,” he said. “Everyone is accounted for.”

Students scrambled to their feet, officially done with the Great California ShakeOut for another year — unless a real quake happens.

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