Students in Renee Christensen’s second grade class at Mountain View Elementary in Kenai had just finished their morning snack and were eagerly rattling off answers to her questions about what to do in the event of an earthquake on Thursday. Then came a loud beep over the school’s intercom. Dozens of little eyes widened in shock and anticipation.
In a flurry of motion, each of Christensen’s students scurried to get under their desks and cover their heads, just like they were taught. Even though she had to remind a few to cover their heads and ask others to cease chattering, she said her kids handled this year’s Great Alaska ShakeOut earthquake drill pretty well.
They sprang into action at 10:20 a.m. on Oct. 20, in accordance with the worldwide preparedness event.
Mountain View Principal Karl Kircher said that even though the kids tend to get excited about the drill as something out of the ordinary in their daily schedules, “they do take it pretty seriously.”
“It’s part of a big focus on safety,” he said of the ShakeOut. “We have fire drills, earthquake drills, intruder drills. We’ve actually done an evacuate the building and relocate to another place.”
The students at Mountain View also practice evacuating a bus, learn fire safety from the Kenai Fire Department and bike safety from the Kenai Police Department, and get schooled in winter weather safety from the organization Safe Kids Kenai Peninsula.
“It is part of a big picture of being safe,” Kircher said. “And the other side of that also is emotional safety. Kids have got to feel safe in school so that emotional safety’s a big part of it.”
Christensen quizzed her students before and after the drill about earthquake safety and how they could complete the exercise better in the future. She said the kids participate in an earthquake drill unrelated to the Great Alaska ShakeOut earlier this year, and that their response to get under their desks, cover their heads and then hold onto the desk has definitely improved since then.
Many of her students had plenty of advice to offer up to the class about how to stay safe during not only earthquakes, but all kinds of emergencies.
“If lights fall they can catch on fire and start a fire,” said 7-year-old Nathan Hamm in response to Christensen’s questions. “And you can probably hear the glass breaking, but there if there is fire, you … at least need to have — well, I have three ways out. I have my slide door, I have the back door and the front door, and then I have, I’m pretty sure, a window that doesn’t open and a window that does, but I’m not too sure.”
One thing that may have helped students handle the earthquake scenario a bit better this year is that many of them experienced the 7.1 magnitude tremblor that rattled the peninsula last winter. Kircher said that while some students might not have felt the quake, others had gone through it and most are aware of the damage that was done around town in Kenai, the most serious being the destruction of four homes in the Lilac Lane area when a gas line ruptured.
“A lot of them sleep through it — it’s kind of funny,” Christensen said. “I think it does help them relate because it builds connections. Just, ‘Oh, that’s what it might actually be like.’ Even though it wasn’t at school, the same thing could happen at school.”
Many of Christensen’s students clamored to tell their own stories of what they remember from January’s quake.
“One time me and my brother did sleep in an earthquake,” said 7-year-old Blake Kinsley.
The ShakeOut event also gives the Kenai Peninsula School District a chance to practice emergency communications, Kircher said. Staff in schools all over the district that participate in the drill get to use radios that connect directly to the district’s headquarter office in Soldotna. In the event that power goes out, teachers and staff need to know how to communicate with the district and with first responders, Kircher said.
In the end, Mountain View found itself pretty prepared for the fake quake, along with the more than 127,000 schools, families, nonprofits and other groups that registered for this year’s drill.