Drop. Cover. Hold On. The Great California Shake Out At Our Schools

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On Thursday morning, the loudspeaker at Katherine Elementary School airs a recorded message telling the staff and students that an earthquake drill has begun.

With the sounds of shaking and crashing in the background, the voice asks everyone to, “Drop, cover and hold on.”

Part of the Great California Shakeout, the earthquake drill was repeated at every campus in Simi Valley, and is one of several types of emergency drills staff and students routinely conduct during the school year.

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Drills are an essential part of campus safety. The more prepared and practiced the school community is during a simulated emergency, the better they will navigate a real crisis, which could include brush fires, earthquakes, criminal activity requiring a campus lock down and other scenarios.

Every Simi campus has an Emergency Operations Plan and every staff member undergoes regular training in the plan’s procedures. The complete plans are housed in the schools’ offices in binders, and each classroom has a flip chart for immediate emergency procedures.

“Every adult is on this campus for them and their safety,” said teacher Lynette LeBlanc as she looked at her Katherine Elementary third-graders during Thursday’s drill.

Besides regular drills, each school has a seatrain, a secure storage area where all emergency supplies are kept. These supplies are inventoried at least annually. Many elementary schools also prepare go-bags for their younger students, which will have drinks, snacks and comfort items. At some schools, parents are given the option to pay a small amount of money at the beginning of the year for the students’ go-bags. Others give parents the option of putting together a go-bag with a specific list of items. At some schools, the PTA supplements the cost of the go-bags when parents can’t afford them.

Even though the middle and high schools accommodate many more students, they also stock a two-to-three day supply of water and rations.

All emergencies are monitored and coordinated with the district office. The district’s senior staff collaborates with emergency service agencies (police, sheriff, fire) during emergencies, and maintain emergency communications systems. Regular training through FEMA and other agencies is required and the district holds drills, too.

One of the biggest concerns for parents during an emergency is getting to their children at a school site. It’s important to remember that a school’s staff will do everything possible to protect their students. Here are some tips for handling a crisis during school hours:

  • PLEASE REMAIN CALM! Every staff member at every campus regularly trains in emergency procedures for numerous scenarios. They will do everything possible to keep your child(ren) safe, and they are prepared and equipped to stay on the campus for several days if needed.
  • PLEASE DON’T CALL THE SCHOOL. The phone lines need to be kept open for emergency calls. In some types of emergencies, like earthquakes, phones lines are often “shut down” in order to ease emergency communications. The district’s website, simivalleyusd.org, will post emergency information on its home page for all of the schools. The local media will also be updated with status changes. The city of Simi Valley maintains an emergency radio station, 530 AM, where damage reports and updates are reported. Please also know that students will be asked to turn off their cells phones until the principal or lead administrator at the school sites advise otherwise. As soon as it is safe, students will be able to contact parents through text messages or calls.
  • PLEASE DON’T IMMEDIATELY DRIVE TO THE SCHOOL. The extra traffic can impede the ability of emergency vehicles to get to the school, and, in certain types of emergencies, can place you in danger. Please stay at home or at work until you are given instructions from the school.
  • REMEMBER THAT YOUR CHILD(REN) WILL ONLY BE RELEASED TO THE ADULTS YOU LISTED ON YOUR EMERGENCY CONTACT LIST! It’s important to update this information through Aeries each year. Whoever comes to the school to remove your child(ren) will be asked for identification and will have to sign the child out. Never take your child from the school without signing out with the staff member in charge! School staff are constantly counting heads to make sure they have all of their students with them.

As of this year, all students in Simi Valley schools are required to have their information updated through Aeries, the districtwide computer system for managing student information and grades. At the beginning of the school year, parents were asked to log on to Aeries to complete the permission forms and Acceptable Use Policy for tech devices, to update insurance and medical information, and to designate emergency contacts for each student.

The medical and emergency contact people are especially important to have updated each year in case there is a crisis event. Each school site has staff on-hand to help any parent or guardian who might have trouble using Aeries, or who doesn’t have access to the Internet. Having each student’s information in Aeries allows faster access to a student’s information during an emergency. It’s that important.

The district is currently revising its Parent Emergency Information pamphlet and will soon release it to school sites and post it on the district’s website and school websites.

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