In rock ‘n’ roll-prone California, schools are required to prepare for earthquakes. In many schools, the plan is part of a larger disaster preparedness program that also covers fires, bomb scares, intruders on campus and a variety of other potential problems.
The state requirement to be prepared for earthquakes covers all schools with 50 or more students or more than one classroom.
One of the specific things called for in the code is that students and staff practice a “drop procedure” (known widely as “duck and cover”) defined as taking cover under a table or desk, dropping to the knees with the head protected by the arms and the back to the windows. The procedure must be practiced at least once each quarter in elementary schools and at least once a semester in secondary schools.
The state code leaves many other specifics up to individual districts, though, and the level of quake preparedness varies by school. It is dependent on a number of things, from how committed districts are to establishing strong plans to how attentive teachers and students are to learning and practicing emergency steps.
“Throughout the state, some (districts) have very good plans; some don’t,” said Duwayne Brooks, assistant superintendent of school facilities planning with the state Department of Education. The level of preparedness reflects how much priority has been placed on it at the district level--a decision Brooks said is often unrelated to proximity to known quake fault lines.
In Orange County, many schools have detailed plans for coping with earthquakes.
At Villa Park High School, the school’s earthquake plan spells out what should be done if the emergency happens during class or during free periods such as lunch or when students are changing classes.
Like many plans, it specifies that students not leave campus unless picked up by a parent or another appointed adult.
Seven disaster teams of faculty and school administrators at Villa Park have been appointed to cover various operations--command center, sweep and rescue, site security and operations, first aid, assembly, parental assistance and accounting.
“Our task,” states the Villa Park disaster handbook, “will be to function together as a team with group and individual responsibilities. The situation will have to be quickly analyzed. Students may need to be moved, accounted for and eventually reunited with a family member. Rescue efforts, first aid administration and community assistance are highly probable. Records of the situation and student movement will be necessary.”
Some schools, including Villa Park, have been designated as community disaster centers.
In the event of a major quake, the school would serve as a Red Cross community center. It has back-up water supplies, and the cafeteria normally keeps a two-week supply of food.
At Loara High School in Anaheim, the school’s disaster plan distributed to faculty and staff details everything from the role of a substitute teacher to who shuts off the utilities.
In the event of an earthquake, “play it safe,” the manual states. “For a minute or two the earth may pitch and roll like the deck of a ship. The motion is frightening but, unless it shakes something down on you, you will not be injured. Generally, the initial shock is the most severe and subsequent shocks are less intense. Keep calm and ride it out. Survival chances are good when one knows how to act.”
Student responsibilities in the event of a disaster, as detailed in the Loara handbook, are:
Listen to your teacher carefully and follow directions;
Know where the evacuation area is for each of your assigned teachers;
Know evacuation procedures to use before or after school, during passing period or at lunch;
Assist the teacher in caring for injured and help both staff and fellow students remain calm and act with judgment;
Upon evacuation, report to your teacher’s evacuation area;
Stay with the class, assist in accounting for all students, listen for directions and follow them.
Contributing to this report were Jennifer Tobkin, a senior at Villa Park High School, and Eve Winnick, a junior at Loara High School in Anaheim.