05/21/13 — Officials: Wayne schools prepared

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Officials: Wayne schools prepared

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 21, 2013 1:46 PM

What if a tornado were to hit Wayne County Schools during a school day?

School officials say the district is prepared.

Tornado drills have been required in the schools for years, but took on new meaning in the aftermath of news that a tornado swept through an Oklahoma school Monday.

"It doesn't matter where you live, it hits close to home," said Ken Derksen, director of communication services for the district. "Our hearts go out to the (victims) and certainly we are keeping them in our hearts and prayers at this time."

The school district has crisis policies and procedures in place, and as recently as March participated in the state's annual Severe Weather Awareness Week tornado drill.

The procedure begins with announcements and sirens.

Teachers then escort the students into the hallways, where they get on their knees and protect themselves by covering their heads.

That procedure is based on N.C. Emergency Management Division recommendations, Derksen said.

Protocol dictates that students and adults seek shelter in areas clear of windows, such as interior hallways, he added. Students in mobile classrooms are brought into the main building, and those in gymnasiums, auditoriums and other rooms with a large expanse of roof are also relocated.

In the event of an incident taking place while buses are on the roadways, drivers are trained to use good judgment, returning to the school if possible.

School districts have grown increasingly proactive with crisis management plans, and the necessity of having procedures in place and training staff, Derksen said. In WCPS, there is a crisis management manual that is regularly updated, as well as crisis charts in individual classrooms and the annual statewide drill.

"It comes down to just reinforcement, from time to time reminding folks to review the procedures for severe weather," he said.

Certainly, the hope is that nothing of the magnitude that occurred in Oklahoma will ever happen, but Derksen said every effort is made to prepare staff and school personnel for such emergencies.

"In the case of a real event, students already know this is how they need to be as far as behavior and to be orderly and listen to directions from the staff," he said. "We have had tornado warnings in recent years while school was in session, somebody is monitoring the weather or waiting for a call from central office that the warning has been lifted."