As millions of Californians participate in the "Great California ShakeOut" Thursday, so will students at L.A. Unified. The district uses the day for an annual full-scale emergency drill and an opportunity to teach kids about earthquakes.
Most of the district's 1,100 school sites will conduct their drills at 10:30 a.m. Thursday when students, faculty and staff will "drop, cover and hold on" before they file outdoors, said Jill Barnes, coordinator of emergency services at L.A. Unified.
Each L.A. Unified school has designated search and rescue and triage team members, along with medical supplies, water, sanitation supplies, and some extra food stored away for emergencies, Barnes said.
"This is the one official time a year where they go through everything," Barnes said. "It's a good chance also for the schools to get out their emergency supplies, get their hands on them, make sure everything's in good shape."
All campuses must have a "safe school plan" in place to cover emergency procedures in various scenarios and designate who does what, Barnes said. She said all schools have their plans in place for this year.
In following that plan, a school's designated "search and rescue" teams will search classrooms to make sure they are safe for students. Some kids will pretend to be mock victims and staff will conduct triage and deal with the injuries, Barnes said. Once they are finished, students will return to class.
"It takes a while, but it's important," Barnes said. "It's the best chance all year to really practice these skills."
Public school buildings must conform to Field Act standards that require higher safety standards subject to more inspections than other buildings. Barnes said that although the buildings may not collapse, falling objects in the classrooms might injure people.
"We definitely encourage it as a teachable moment," Barnes said. At 186th Street Elementary School in Gardena, the nonprofit Save the Children is partnering with the district this week to provide students with "resilient and ready workshops," Barnes said. When they complete it, students are given starter backpacks with emergency supplies.
The district's current Emergency Operations Center is located at the L.A. School Police Department, but L.A. Unified is building its own stand-alone facility downtown. It's scheduled to open next spring, Barnes said. On Thursday, she said, she will conduct a three-hour emergency drill with executive staff and will keep tabs on individual school actions.
The entire process Thursday will begin with a simulated "ShakeCast" alert from the U.S. Geological Survey. That agency will transmit data from its numerous sensors on the amount of shaking under each school site, Barnes said. This alert is transmitted via text and e-mail to multiple L.A. Unified staff who can then determine which school sites might need the most attention after an earthquake, Barnes said.
On Tuesday, the district tested how its communications network - an extensive 450 MHz two-way radio system -in such a situation, Barnes said. The district maintains its own radio towers and a chain of check-in procedures so officials can quickly receive status reports from all schools.
After Thursday's test, L.A. Unified will ask all schools to submit online surveys of their evacuation times and provide district officials with information about any challenges they may have faced.
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