Reuniting families if big quake hits during school

Families and students who plan ahead will have the best chances of reuniting

A teacher takes questions in her 7th-8th grade language arts class at Komachin Middle School in Lacey, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

HILLSBORO, Ore. (KOIN) — Seismologists say it’s only a matter of time before a devastating quake hits the Pacific Northwest.

As families and communities work to devise emergency preparedness plans, local school districts are determining the best ways to reunite students with their loved ones in the event of a really big quake.

“Ultimately, it’s for the safety of all involved and for us to have an orderly fashion so we can ensure that safety,” Hillsboro School District Communications Manager Beth Graser said.

'Go-binders' in classrooms give teachers cheat sheets on what to do during emergencies. (KOIN)
‘Go-binders’ in classrooms give teachers cheat sheets on what to do during emergencies. (KOIN)

With 20,500 students, Hillsboro is the fourth largest school district in Oregon.

Each classroom at Evergreen Middle School is equipped with what Graser calls a ‘go-binder’. It includes a roster with contact information for each of the school’s 800 students.

Inside the ‘go-binders’, teachers can also find how-to response guides for disasters.

“Cheat sheets on all kinds of emergencies you may face in the course of a school day,” Graser explained. “We need up-to-date phone numbers, we need email addresses of a trusted person if you can’t get there.”

Classrooms are also stocked with buckets full of emergency supplies like hand wipes, water bottles, granola bars and Mylar blankets. The buckets can also be used as toilets if restrooms become inaccessible.

The district holds monthly disaster drills at each of its 35 campuses to ensure students and educators know exactly where to go and what to do in the event of an emergency.

A kindergarten teacher leads her class to higher ground in Coos Bay, Ore. (AP Photo/Jeff Barnard)
A kindergarten teacher leads her class to higher ground in Coos Bay, Ore. (AP Photo/Jeff Barnard)

“When you don’t practice something it can lead to panic,” Graser explained. “But when you know what to expect it makes things a lot smoother.”

Each student has an assigned advisory room to report to, and outside they have designated areas where they are expected to line up.

The Red Cross suggests choosing two places to meet during an emergency, but district leaders say they don’t publicize their second location in case it becomes structurally compromised.

But it’s not just students and educators who need to be prepared; district officials urge parents and guardians to familiarize themselves with information in their system on what to do in the event of a disaster.

“Your first instinct is to come to school, to connect with your child,” Graser said. “We would ask that parents hold off on that and let us let you know what the plan is, because we need to ultimately be primarily concerned with the safety of the students.”

The Red Cross also suggests parents provide schools with contact information for someone who lives out of the area.

A student at Twin Lakes Elementary School in Federal Way, Wash., takes shelter under a table. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A student at Twin Lakes Elementary School in Federal Way, Wash., takes shelter under a table. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

“If there is cell service, the local lines will all be jammed because everyone will want to get in touch with people they care about,” Red Cross Preparedness and Partnership Manager Melinda McGoldrick said. “So you might not get a call in on a local line, but you might have better luck getting through on a long distance number.”

Ultimately, experts agree that families and students who plan ahead will have the best chances of reuniting.

“Really taking those steps ahead of time is going to make a huge difference in how quickly people can get back on the road to recovery,” McGoldrick said.

Emergency preparedness plans in local school districts

Lake Oswego School District

  • Students and staff are trained to drop, cover and hold on wherever they are, should an earthquake occur.
  • Schools conduct monthly drills alternating between fire, earthquake, lockdown and lockout drills.
  • Adults coming to pickup a student must have a picture ID and be on the student’s emergency contact list.
  • If school is destroyed, a reunification site would be determined depending on conditions at other facilities.

Gresham-Barlow School District

  • Students and staff are instructed to take cover under a desk, table or bench.
  • They should stay away from windows, light fixtures and suspended objects.
  • If they are outside, they should move away from buildings and overhead structures, drop to their knees and make their body as small as possible.
  • Each school has a building specific reunification plan to ensure students are safely reunited with their families.
  • Parents should bring appropriate ID in order to check their students out of school.
  • A secondary meeting location would be determined based on the availability of other sites nearby.

Portland Public Schools

  • Emergency plan for the district is not distributed due to safety reasons.
  • In the event of an emergency, parents will be told where they can be reunited with their students via text, email and phone.
  • Parents must play an active role in emergency preparedness by deciding who will pick up their child and where they will go.
  • Schools practice emergency preparedness with students and encourage families to do so as well.

Hillsboro School District

  • Students are taught to drop, cover and hold during an earthquake. People are no longer told to stand in doorways and should not run outside.
  • Each building has emergency strike teams in place which can be activated as needed depending on the emergency.
  • Parents and guardians should provide the school with current and complete contact information for those authorized to pick up their child.
  • Parents are encouraged to check information on file for their student through their ParentVUE account.
  • In the event of an emergency, parents will be notified where to pick up their children. They should have photo ID with them.

Evergreen Public Schools

  • General earthquake drill practice is drop, cover and hold under a table or desk in the classroom.
  • Parents or designated adults should have photo ID and be listed on the child’s record as an authorized individual.
  • A secondary meeting location would be determined based on the availability of other sites nearby.

Vancouver Public Schools

  • Students and staff will ideally take cover in buildings with low ceiling areas without windows.
  • District has a comprehensive all-hazards emergency plan that is updated and practiced on a regular basis.
  • Parents need to bring a photo ID to pick up their child and must be able to provide verbal answers to questions from the student’s information card.
  • A secondary meeting location is determined but not publicized ahead of time.
Red Cross emergency preparedness guide. (American Red Cross)
Red Cross emergency preparedness guide. (American Red Cross)

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