The Golden State of California is well-known for its abundant sunshine and frequent earthquakes. While most of the harms from the former can be prolonged with sunscreen, there is no magical ointment to hold off earthquakes. With segments of the San Andreas fault system running throughout California, the Golden State with its sunshine and tech companies face the pending peril of earthquakes.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, one of the scientific agencies of the U.S. government, the southern California area receives about 10,000 earthquakes each year. Against the background of frequent earthquakes that could shake at any moment (for example, the Mojave Desert Fault capable of producing an 8-magnitude earthquake has been producing never-before-seen movements), homes, businesses and schools perform regular earthquake drills. On the 30th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake in the Bay Area, Santa Barbara County saw these drills. Thursday morning, local schools participated in the Great ShakeOut Drill, joining other schools across the state and the world preparing for the day when an earthquake strikes.
The Great California ShakeOut has been taking place annually since 2008. Schools that participated include Righetti High School, Pioneer Valley High School and Santa Barbara High School.
At Righetti and Pioneer high schools, where a combined 5,500 students participated in the drill, staff used intercom to announce the earthquake simulation. Students were instructed to move away from windows and heavy objects and get under their desks. A fire alarm was sounded, and accountability sheets were filled out by maintenance members to ensure that buildings were not damaged. Righetti and Pioneer high schools’ drills took place in-house, according to Santa Maria Joint Union High School District public information officer Kenny Klein.
Meanwhile at Santa Barbara High School, the drill involved an outdoor portion. But Santa Barbara High was doing things a little differently than from previous years.
“We conducted the Great Shakeout as we’ve always conducted,” said Santa Barbara High’s principal Elise Simmons, who told the News-Press that there was a new layer this year. “The layer was the announcement through the phone.”
Dr. Simmons is referring to CrisisGo, an app that the district rolled out this year in an effort to improve communication in the face of emergencies. The News-Press released an article about the app in August, and CrisisGo played a significant role in Thursday’s drill.
The drill began around 10:15 a.m. with an announcement which was made via the public announcement system and CrisisGo. Upon the notification, teachers instructed students to drop, cover and hold on. After students found cover under their desks, they were guided out of the building into the courtyard. Once in the courtyard, teachers took an account of their students, and this was another area where CrisisGo came into play.
Teachers were able to take attendance and mark students as safe during an event using the app. Teachers could even account for coworkers and students whom they are not teaching.
According to Dr. Simmons, about 33 percent were able to complete taking attendance on the app, another 33 percent took attendance with paper, and the remaining percentage was comprised of app users whose attendance taking was still “in progress” due to various reasons.
Until faculty members are better equipped to handle the app, it appears that Santa Barbara High will continue to use paper to mark attendance during emergencies.
A setback of the app, according to Dr. Simmons, is its dependence on data and wifi. In the event of a real earthquake, cell towers and routers face the risk of damage, which could subsequently disconnect the app.
On the positive side, Dr. Simmons told the News-Press, CrisisGo provides a venue to immediately notify faculty and staff in the case of an emergency.
“We all got direct communication at once through CrisisGo,” said Dr. Simmons. “That was pretty awesome.”
Her assistant principal Dan Dupont agreed.
“Teachers can check in instantly,” said Mr. Dupont.
Technology, though, seems to create both positive and negative effects. While CrisisGo can facilitate the communication among faculty and staff, the students’ personal smartphones posed a potential hurdle in case of a real emergency. While the Dons were being given safety directions by their teachers, several slipped out their phones and began browsing, and other students would not stay with their teachers and classes.
The courtyard portion of the drill turned into a lively session for students, some of whom began a makeshift baseball and braided hair. It appeared to be a fun, energetic recess, with children laughing and having a good time.
Mr. Dupont, who has about two decades of experience working in education, told the News-Press that students may be more alert in the case of a real emergency.
Before coming to Santa Barbara, Mr. Dupont dealt with three real emergencies in a school environment, and he said that everything went according to plan during a real emergency. Thursday’s drill, however, included faculty members and safety personnel who were reminding and herding students back to where they should be. One of these staff members was campus safety officer Briana Lopez, who was striding back and forth throughout the campus making sure some of the 2,000 students did not enter buildings or wander into the parking lots.
Thursday was a testament that disaster preparation takes time and patience, especially when those involved number in thousands.