Whittell gets another drill | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Whittell gets another drill

The small cardboard box goes unnoticed by the student as she reaches into her locker. The explosion throws her body across the hall. A teacher from a nearby classroom rushes to the fire alarm, and the drill begins.

The burns and nails sticking out of Sarah VanCleemput’s face looked realistic, but it was all just for effect. There was no explosion, but Tahoe Douglas firefighters were interested in finding out what-if.

“We’re not here to try to trick anyone,” said Assistant Chief Bruce VanCleemput, and Sarah’s father. “We just want to take them beyond a normal fire drill.”

Tuesday’s scenario at George Whittell High School was a follow-up to drills held in the fall at all three Douglas County lake schools. VanCleemput put principals to the test with real-life scenarios. Firefighters asked tough questions, hid students and waited to see how long it took administrators to notice, and forced the principals to think beyond the drill. The results pointed out crucial mistakes that could be made in the face of a real emergency.

“I can see we still have a way to go, but it is a definite improvement,” said Whittell’s Principal Larry Snyder as students filed back in the building. “In the two years I’ve been here this is the fastest we’ve done.”

In October the scenario was a fire started in the home economics room. As fire trucks pulled into the parking lot, students were moving back into the classrooms. A janitor, thinking the alarm was a student prank, had already reset it. One student found wandering the halls was never noticed as missing by the staff.

As the fire trucks pulled in Tuesday the building was evacuated and all students accounted for. A teacher was stationed at the gate to keep more people from entering the scene. And Snyder had a teacher, equipped with a radio, stationed at each side of the building.

Division Chief Guy Moss coached Snyder through the exercise pointing out things Snyder would probably be expected to deal with in a real bomb situation – including: parents wanting information, students attempting to get things from the building or their cars, transportation and food needs for the students and communication.

Once again fire officials stressed the importance of having a list of students’ phone numbers, and other agencies that Snyder might need to contact.

“Every emergency is going to be different and you are never going to be 100 percent prepared,” Moss said. “But, with drills like this we can improve.”

A similar drill was conducted at Zephyr Cove Elementary School Monday, and Kingsbury Middle School will get its chance today.

“I’m impressed with the changes,” VanCleemput said. “We still have things to work on, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

Zephyr Cove Principal Dr. William Robison said it’s unfortunate that it has become necessary for schools to go to a heightened level of preparedness.

“In today’s world you never know what you’re going to be faced with. We want kids to know school is a safe place to learn.”

VanCleemput said the drills would again be followed up with a meeting to discuss and tighten emergency plans.

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