Eighteen first-grade students sat together shifting restlessly, reciting word roots during a group reading exercise on the carpet in Barbara Ralston’s Mountain View Elementary classroom.
A loud tone sounded over the loudspeaker and the entire group moved in uniform to a group of desks, crawling under them and curling up, hands cradling their heads protectively.
For the next few minutes, Ralston spoke almost nonstop about how chaotic an earthquake would be as students huddled under their desks, waiting for the signal that everything was safe, during the Great Alaska ShakeOut Oct. 18 earthquake drill.
Ralston talked about how dark and loud the room would be if an major earthquake struck on the Kenai Peninsula. She told students that the hallway could be unsafe so if they had to leave through the window she would put a blanket down and they would have to watch for glass.
More than 9,400 students in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School district practiced earthquake preparedness according to shakeout.org.
Nolan Freeman, 6, was especially careful to keep his fingers underneath the desk, keeping them away from the corners were the desks met.
“You could get pinched,” he said after the drill.
Students were told to drop, cover, and hold on when they felt an earthquake.
“I thought it went very well,” Ralston said. “The kids knew what to do.”
After the initial excitement wore off, several of the students fidgeted but none of them moved out from under desks.
Ralston said the repetition of details about the chaos of an earthquake or fire helped them retain the information, so they responded correctly when in danger.
“They’re internalizing it so that when something happens... they’re not scared,” Ralston said.
Alaska is the most earthquake-prone state and the Good Friday earthquake on the Prince William sound is the largest recorded earthquake in the United States according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
While several other states have been participating in the Great ShakeOut since 2008, 2012 was the first year for Alaska schools and businesses to participate.
After the drill, the students gathered on the carpet and talked about what they remembered of the drill. Like the school’s monthly fire drills, Ralston said the key was to repeat details to help students remember exactly what to do during a disaster.
Ralston said she hoped the students were practicing earthquake drills at home too.
“We kind of talk about what they need to do at home, but they really need to practice it at home,” she said. “It’s going to be a scary situation, there’s no holding that back, but at least if they know the procedures it will help them from getting hurt.”