Students stop, cover and hold

La Cañada Unified School District students joined millions of Californians across the state Oct. 15 in participating in the second annual Great California ShakeOut drill. The drill is designed to ensure that the state’s thousands of public schools and government offices will be prepared to respond in the event of an earthquake, or other similar large scale disaster.

At approximately 10 a.m. La Cañada public school students were directed to “stop, cover and hold” in simulation of what action they would take during an earthquake. Then, the students were evacuated out on to each school’s respective sports field. Teachers and administrators practiced attending to injuries, as well as releasing students to their parents.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Matejka, the La Cañada High School resource officer, was on the LCHS football field helping to oversee the drill. Having an emergency plan in place, he said, helps to ensure things run smoothly when an authentic crisis situation develops.

“In any situation we are trying to get a base of what is happening,” Matejka said. “If you have an earthquake you want to try and get evacuated. If you have never done [a drill] you have no idea, and then once you do something like this you see what your flaws are and what things could be improved.”

Rehearsing also gives administrators, teachers, students and parents a sense of control in what could otherwise be a chaotic scene, he said.

“If the students get used to doing something like this it will reduce panic, and shows that the school had control,” Matejka said.

LCHS Principal Audra Pittman said she was pleased with the performance of staff and students during the drill. The recent Station fire, which delayed the start of the school year by several days, served to remind everyone how important emergency preparedness is, Pittman said.

“Especially in a school, we have a responsibility to the students We are taking care of somebody else’s child,” Pittman said. “It is a very serious matter.”

Organized by the Earthquake Alliance, a coalition which includes the California Emergency Management Agency, Southern California Earthquake Center, United States Geological Survey, California Earthquake Authority, California Department of Education, American Red Cross, among others, the Great ShakeOut was launched last year and attracted 5.4 million participants last October.

Margaret Vinci, who works at the Caltech Seismological Laboratory and helps organize the drill, said that this year there were 6.9 million participants, including 5 million elementary school, middle school and high school students. California is an earthquake state, Vinci said, and it is only a matter of time before a serious earthquake occurs.

“The more proactive you are, the more you instinctively know what to do,” Vinci said. “You know to drop and hold on. Otherwise, what do people do? The earth shakes and people want to run, and that is when people get hurt. They get hit by falling object. They fall. The energy will know you off your feet.”

At Verdugo Hills Hospital, administrators, doctors, nurses and visitors all participated in the Great ShakeOut. Hospitals are required by state law to practice emergency drills on a regular basis, education coordinator Jennifer Fernandez said. Such drills take on a heightened emergency at hospitals, she said, where staff must not only try and take care of themselves, but the patients and visiting guests as well.

“Not only do we have to get prepared for ourselves, but we have to take care of all the other people our facility,” Fernandez said. “Practice makes perfect. Every year we do this. It is actually mandated by the state. It depends on the kind of drill, it could be pandemic flu, fire or earthquake. The last two years ave been earthquake [drills].”

The Station fire, Fernandez said, poured heavy smoke over the foothills and Verdugo Hills Hospital actually activated its emergency response system at that time.

“We were actually affected, we activated a code triage internal. Our air filters, our HVAC filters, were affected by the smoke and ashes. All the smoke was coming into our vents and everyone could smell it and breath it, so we had to close our vents. We had damages resulting in $20,000 from that...We didn’t evacuate any patients but we did notify Glendale Adventist and Glendale Memorial that we were on standby to evacuate patients.”

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