Students practice for emergencies during Exercise Coastal Response week

Credit: Kristi Dobson
Students and teachers from Alberni Elementary School practiced a tsunami evacuation drill and walked from the school to base at Arrowsmith Baptist Church Friday afternoon.
Kristi Dobson

Are schools in the Alberni Valley prepared for an emergency? Students had a chance this week to learn what to do in various situations and how to prepare for the unexpected. Working alongside Vancouver’s urban rescue search and rescue team for the Exercise Coastal Response, a few elementary students took part in realistic re-enactments while others practiced evacuation drills.

This afternoon, students from Alberni Elementary practiced a drop, cover and hold on exercise before taking off on a tsunami evacuation student release drill. It was the first time parents were required to pick their children up and sign them at the end location - Arrowsmith Baptist Church. Apart from being equipped with storage canisters full of basic essentials, the drill is part of the School District’s emergency preparedness planning.

“Each school has an evacuation plan that they practice two to three times per year,” said trustee Pam Craig. “This week it was a significant opportunity and Alberni Elementary was so well-prepared and so organized. They had five different routes so not all the kids were on the same roads at the same time. It took less than 20 minutes to get (to the church).”

On Thursday, a handful of students from John Howitt Elementary were at the vacant Gill Elementary School for a rare opportunity. They first had make-up applied by artists from the film industry to look like injured victims and were assigned different scenerios.

One had students placed in a bus versus vehicle accident. The rescue team had to figure out a safe way to extract them and assess injuries. Other students were “hidden” inside the building waiting for search dogs and handlers to find them.

John Howitt’s principal, Stacey Manson, and her daughter, Libby, were two volunteers who were “rescued” from the rooftop.

“We went down the ladder with the local fire department and the urban rescue team,” Manson said. “It is really nice to know that if you are in a real emergency, they are able to completely talk you through what is happening. They were constantly saying, ‘You’re doing great’.”

She said it was a valuable, eye-opening experience for both herself and the students, especially after discussing emergency preparedness in the class.

“It was a really good experience,” she said. “If any of the students are in an actual emergency, they will have this experience and will know that there are people with the skills to save them.”

Manson then brought the information home to share.

“I had conversations with extended family and told them they would be able to do this if they needed to,” she said. “The whole way down they reassured us so we were not focussing on what was happening. I was so impressed with how well-organized it was.”

Exercise Coastal Response wraps up today.