Education

Crisis plans for Wichita schools now include earthquakes

The Wichita school district's largest growth in 2015 is in its elementary schools, with an increase of 100 students to bring the total to 26,459. High schools also saw an increase, with 69 more students for a total of 12,706. Middle school enrollment dropped by 40 students.
The Wichita school district's largest growth in 2015 is in its elementary schools, with an increase of 100 students to bring the total to 26,459. High schools also saw an increase, with 69 more students for a total of 12,706. Middle school enrollment dropped by 40 students. File photo

Add earthquakes to the list of potential crisis situations in Kansas schools.

Principals and teachers in Wichita, the state’s largest school district, received a document this month outlining what to do if a major earthquake happens during the school day. The two-page protocol was added to the district’s crisis plan in response to a recent spike in the number of earthquakes being felt in and around Wichita, officials said.

“The crisis team said, ‘Hey, we need to look at our protocols and make sure we’re covering everything that may possibly happen here in Kansas,’” said Terri Moses, the district’s executive director of safety services.

“And we said, ‘Oops, we don’t have anything on earthquakes.’”

Drawn from advice from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, instructions call for students and staff to remember three things in the event of an earthquake – drop, cover and hold on:

At the first indication of a major tremor, drop to your knees and take cover under a desk or table, the instructions say. Keeping your back toward windows and, protecting your head with one arm, use your other arm to hold onto the desk or table. The goal is to shield yourself from falling ceiling tiles or other objects that can shake loose during an earthquake and cause injuries, Moses said.

If you’re outside during an earthquake, you should move quickly away from buildings and overhead electrical wires and into an open area, the instructions say. Then lie flat, face down, and wait for shocks to subside.

“Just like everything in our crisis plan that we send out, we try to keep it simple,” Moses said. “With fire, of course, you’ve got ‘Stop, drop and roll.’ … We cover all the important points but keep it fairly short.”

Last fall, Wichita teachers received updated training on how to deal with armed intruders, including a new directive to fight intruders using improvised weapons if that’s their only option. The district adopted its “Run, Hide, Fight” response plan at the urging of many educators and law enforcement agencies.

Officials rolled out its earthquake plan more quietly, posting it on the district’s online portal along with other parts of the crisis plan. In part that’s because, although earthquakes are being felt more often in Wichita, none has been long-lasting or caused damage.

“By the time we figure out it’s an earthquake, it’s already done,” Moses said. “But if we ever did have a long-lasting earthquake, it’s good to have that plan in place.”

The district’s crisis plan includes instructions for tornadoes, fires, floods, hazardous chemical spills, gas leaks and more.

“We even had somebody ask about an airplane landing on a school,” Moses said. “We really don’t have any specifics for that, but we talk about massive building damage. … You cannot ever think of all the possibilities.”

It’s not clear whether Wichita students will practice the “drop, cover, hold on” earthquake protocol the way they run drills for fires or severe weather. The district requires each school to have two crisis drills a year – one in the fall and one in the spring – and principals decide what to practice.

“If they choose to do an earthquake drill, they certainly can,” Moses said. “But it’s not one where we say, ‘Hey, this is something that you really, really need to cover.’”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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