Recovering From a Major Disaster, Virginia Schools Take Action to Better Prepare for Earthquakes and Tornadoes
You could be anywhere when an earthquake strikes: at home, at work, at school, or even on vacation. Are you prepared to survive and recover quickly?
That’s what students and staff at Louisa County Public Schools are asking themselves—and for good reason. In August 2011, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck Louisa County in the town of Mineral, VA while the schools were in session. The earthquake destroyed Thomas Jefferson Elementary, one of four elementary schools in the district, as well as many other buildings and homes. Since then, the county has experienced more than 100 aftershocks, reminding residents how important it is to prepare.
Thomas Jefferson Elementary students drop, cover, and hold on during a ShakeOut earthquake drill during their PrepareAthon! in fall 2014.
To React Quickly, Practice Often
You may have only seconds to protect yourself in an earthquake, before strong shaking knocks you down—or drops something on you. Practicing what to do to stay safe helps you be ready to respond not only to earthquakes, but also to other emergencies.
In fall 2014, after the school had just been rebuilt, students at Thomas Jefferson Elementary participated in the Great ShakeOut, an earthquake preparedness drill aligned with America’s PrepareAthon!SM
The Great ShakeOut and America’s PrepareAthon! encourage people to take action in order to prepare for natural and manmade hazards in their communities before a disaster strikes, including earthquakes and tornadoes. Coordinated in collaboration with federal, state, local, tribal and territorial governments and private sector and non-governmental organizations, communities engage in preparedness activities throughout the year.
During the fall event, students learned age-appropriate information about earthquake and general disaster safety, such as preparing an emergency kit and knowing their home and school escape plans, along with practicing drills. Students also learned about dangerous weather and earthquakes, which helps them know when to take precautions.
Louisa County Public Schools now hold frequent earthquake, fire, and tornado drills each year as part of its efforts to significantly increase preparedness across the board. “We learned that you continually need to prepare,” said Dr. Deborah Pettit, school superintendent. “It is so easy to get lulled into thinking such a disaster is unlikely to happen again. But you’ve got to continue to practice drills to know how to be safe and ready to recover.”
Spreading the Word on Disaster Safety
Louisa County’s preparedness efforts didn’t stop with participating in The Great ShakeOut in 2014. In another preparedness event, students and staff of Jouett Elementary School in Louisa County took part in Virginia’s statewide tornado drill. The participants joined the millions of people who participated in registered preparedness activities in collaboration with the spring 2015 America’s PrepareAthon!
During mini-assemblies, students in kindergarten through fifth grade learned about tornado safety, what to do during a tornado warning, how to identify a funnel cloud that could be dangerous, and how to make an emergency plan and kit with their families. The children were instructed to raise their hands if they knew what to do during a tornado warning, if they had a family emergency plan, and if they had an emergency supply kit.
“We wanted to let them know that tornadoes are something to be concerned about. But, if you’ve got a plan and you know what to do, that makes a difference,” said Pettit. “The PrepareAthon! does exactly what its name says. It reminds us to always be prepared and to be prepared for all kinds of disasters, even the ones you think may not come to you.”
To support the school’s participation in the PrepareAthon!, the Louisa County Administration and Fire and Emergency Medical Services Departments participated in the drills as well.
“I thought that was a huge step, getting people who aren’t affiliated with the school involved,” said Pettit. “In the past, it was more school-centric for us, and we are excited to encourage more people in our community to take part in the PrepareAthon!”
Students at Jouett Elementary identified what to include in their family's preparedness kit during their PrepareAthon! on March 17, 2015.
Building Preparedness Kits
As a result of the PrepareAthon!, students, teachers, and administrators at Jouett Elementary learned the value of creating a preparedness kit, a focus of the school’s preparedness efforts.
Teachers sent materials home with their students explaining what to put in an emergency kit and how to prepare for the hazards the community faces. This call to action inspired the school’s teachers to put their own kits together, as well.
Increasing PrepareAthon! Involvement
Louisa County Public Schools is planning to continue their participation in America’s PrepareAthon! with similar presentations at two more of their elementary schools. “Eventually, I would like to get all four elementary schools involved, as young students are impressionable,” said Pettit. “Then, we can think about doing more at our middle and high schools.”
Pettit also hopes that their involvement in America’s PrepareAthon! can inspire other community organizations and local businesses to take part in preparedness. “These are periodic reminders for people to put a kit together and have a plan. It can be simple and doesn’t take very long,” said Pettit. “I really think preparedness is key.”
If your school, business, or organization is interested in participating in a Great ShakeOut earthquake drill, be sure to register your actions at www.ShakeOut.org. We also encourage you to register your preparedness actions with America’s PrepareAthon! at www.ready.gov/prepare.