At 11 a.m. on a sunny Wednesday morning at King Elementary School in Richmond, the school doors were locked and the crackling sound from the security guards’ walkie-talkies echoed down the empty hallways. Teachers in classrooms stared up into the loudspeaker awaiting instructions while children hid under desks.
“The alarm should have gone off by now,” Principal Ronald Richardson said to his staff in the main office. “Has anyone heard it?”
Everyone quietly waited for a few minutes, but no alarm was heard. This was strange, considering the Shelter-In-Place Drill relies on listening for and responding to the emergency siren.
One of the secretaries suggested that maybe they had missed the siren. Principal Richardson walked over to the loudspeaker to announce the drill was over and for teachers to resume class.
What may have started off sounding like the beginning of a disaster movie was actually the safety procedures of the 10th Annual Contra Costa Shelter-In-Place Drill being put into effect. Students across Contra Costa County participated in the emergency drill Wednesday to practice safety procedures in the chance of a nearby hazardous chemical release.
The safety event gives children and administrators an opportunity to practice responding to the Community Warning System alerts, which sound a siren when a dangerous chemical release or other disaster that requires a Shelter-In-Place. The alerts can be sent via sirens, radio, TV, social media, and cell phone text messages.
“I’m really surprised we didn’t hear the sirens,” said Tony Semenza, the executive director of Contra Costa County’s Community Awareness and Emergency Response Group. “Every first Wednesday of each month, the sirens are tested by the county.”
With 22 different emergency sirens around Richmond, one might find it hard to miss the sound. However, with the combination of noise from construction sites near the school and morning traffic, the emergency alarm is harder to hear even from outside. Mr. Semenza confirmed with the county that the sirens did go off without a malfunction. As an added precaution, radios inside the school’s main office are set to the National Weather Service station to relay any information regarding an actual disaster.
While the siren didn’t go off, Ms. Sue Lenihan’s first grade class was surprised with a visit from Wally Wise-Guy, CAER’s costumed turtle mascot and Kathryn Gerk, manager of Richmond’s Fire Department Office of Emergency Services, who taught the children how to shelter in case of a chemical emergency. Wally reminded the class in case of an emergency to go inside, close all the doors and windows and listen to the television or radio for an “all clear” before going back outside.
“I believe it’s important that the students here feel safe at all times, and I am happy that they were able to respond quickly to the situation without panicking,” Richardson said. “I’m glad that we took time during the last three weeks to talk to the kids about the drill.”