It was a normal transition from physical education to snack time in Jeremy McKibben’s fourth-grade class at Mountain View Elementary Thursday.
Kids were weaving through desk pods, washing their hands, getting water and visiting with each other.
Suddenly at 10:17 a.m., a call from Principal Norma Holmgaard sounded over the school’s intercom. Students were told the ground was moving and to take their positions.
McKibben, his 18 students and two support staff quickly found their way under desks and tables, covering their heads with one hand and holding on to the table with the other. All was quiet as the students found and kept their positions.
The drill was the Great Alaska ShakeOut “Drop, Cover and Hold On,” the state’s largest earthquake drill ever, held at 10:17 a.m. on 10/17. The event was also held nation-wide in school districts, business and homes.
Dave Jones, assistant superintendent of instructional support, said the drill was highly important for Kenai Peninsula Borough School District students.
“We need to be prepared for incidents we hope never happen, but if they do, we can minimize the danger to our students, staff and community,” he said.
Pegge Erkeneff, KPBSD communication specialist, said 41 schools district-wide, nearly 8,000 students, participated in Thursday’s drill, as well as staff in district office.
“We did well at the school district office; everyone did the drop, cover and hold on under desks for a minute then a check-in with our designated buddy,” Erkeneff said.
Back at Mountain View, during the three minute drill, Holmgaard announced that there were aftershocks, and for students and staff to keep in position.
“People need to be able to hold those positions for a while,” Holmgaard said. “Just when we think everything is OK, …. there may be aftershocks.”
After an all clear from Holmgaard, the fourth-graders returned to their desks and McKibben asked questions about the event.
“What are we covering?” he asked the class and several hands popped up. “Our heads,” a student responded.
“Why do we hold on to the desk or table,” he asked. Many excited hands waved in the air. “So it does not move,” said a student chosen to answer.
According to www.shakeout.org, federal, state and local emergency management experts and other official preparedness organizations agree that Drop, Cover and Hold On immediately is the appropriate action to reduce injury and death during earthquakes. The ShakeOut is an opportunity to practice how to protect oneself during earthquakes.
According to a press release from the State of Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Alaska is the most seismically active state in the United States, home of three of the seven largest earthquakes of the twentieth century.
Holmgaard said her staff are trained with Emergency Action Training each year before the school year begins to know how deal with situations.
“They are very, very knowledgeable,” she said.
During the school year, she said the school has several drills. They practice with two lock-down drills each year, one including the Kenai Police Department. They also have fire drills each month and an earthquake drill each quarter.
“We start from the very first week of school,” Holmgaard said.
McKibben said the class makes a point of knowing what to do in the event of an earthquake. He said after the 10:17 a.m. drill that the students followed the expectations for the drill and were able to articulate why the class practices for the drills, why they do what they do for the drills and what to do in different areas if there was an earthquake.
“In the classroom we practice drop, cover and hold once a month, usually around the time of our monthly fire drill,” he said. “I have never experienced a real earthquake at school, but like I always tell the students, I feel I will be ready because (of) all the practice we do.”