As Officials Watch
BY KEN LITTLE
Hal Henard Elementary School students "turtled" like pros Thursday morning and passed a tornado drill with flying colors.
Similar drills were held at other Greeneville schools Thursday and at county schools on Wednesday as part of Tennessee Severe Weather Awareness Week, which ends on Saturday.
The drill at Hal Henard Elementary School was monitored by officials from the Greene County Office of Emergency Management & Homeland Security.
When the drill was announced over the school public address system by Principal Janet Ricker, students and staff responded quickly by walking out of classrooms single-file to assigned spots in hallways.
"This gives us an opportunity to come out and see them do their drills and make sure they've been done properly," said Heather Sipe, county Emergency Management operations officer.
Hal Henard, along with all other schools in the city and county school systems, have two NOAA weather radios to provide early alerts to staff about emergencies, Sipe said.
The radios are furnished by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and installed by local emergency management employees.
"At this time, we will have a tornado drill," Ricker announced over the school public address system.
A line of kindergarten students emerged from a classroom in an orderly manner, walked down the hallway a short distance, and faced the wall. Other classes did the same.
As the students kneeled into protective positions, they were gently encouraged by teachers and school staff.
Kindergarten teacher Elena Black urged her students on.
"Act like a turtle," she said. "Bottoms up and turtle."
Nearly 400 students throughout the school kneeled over facing the walls and put their hands behind their heads, remaining in place for about 10 minutes.
Special accommodations are made for the pre-kindergarten class at the school and for students with disabilities, Ricker said.
She said drills are held several times each school year as a means of familiarizing students with what they need to do.
"We do it so the kids don't get scared when there's an actual emergency," Ricker said.
Staff members have flashlights and know where to escort each class. Placards at the eye level of students with an unmistakable drawing of a tornado and the name of an instructor help remind classes of where their assigned areas are.
"It's just a regular drill, and if something truly occurred, this is the procedure," Ricker said afterward.
Small children relate to a request to act like a turtle, Black said.
"It's hard to explain to a kindergartner what to do," she said. "They turtled."
Ricker said the students did a good job, especially the younger ones.
"I didn't hear a peep. I was proud of the 4-year-olds," she said.
Sipe was also complimentary of the response by students and staff.
"They did an excellent job with this drill. They did the positions safely, their hands were positioned safely and correctly, and it went very, very well," she said.
A STUDENT'S PERSPECTIVE
When the 10-minute drill was completed, students quietly filed back to their classrooms.
Fifth-grader Caleb Norris understands the importance of being prepared.
Norris, 11, said his grandmother's house in Camp Creek was damaged by the tornadoes that ripped through the area in April 2011, and relatives in Alabama were also affected by the same outbreak.
"We need to protect our head and be in that turtle position," Norris said. "We need to be close to the wall so if there is any falling debris we would not be hurt."
Norris added his own endorsement to the drill.
"Yes, all the teachers here do very well in making sure what we're supposed to do and staying safe," he said.