Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Very Successful Shelter-in-Place Drill Held at Marchus School

On November 6, it was a very pleasant and quiet autumn Wednesday morning at Contra Costa County Office of Education’s Marchus School, in Concord, when all of sudden, the County Warning System siren went off! Immediately following, a campus PA system directed all students and personnel into their classrooms and offices, and to close the doors behind them.  The Marchus School was participating with nearly 200 other Contra Costa County schools and day-care centers in the 12th Annual Countywide Shelter-in-Place Drill to practice safety procedures in the event of a nearby hazardous material release or other incident requiring them to shelter-in-place. 

This countywide drill is directed by the Contra Costa County Community Awareness and Emergency Response (CAER). CAER’s Executive Director, Tony Semenza, who was on the Marchus campus during the drill, said, “Each year we are encouraged with the increased number of participating schools CAER works with.  CAER will continue to work with all the schools and childcare centers in our county to be sure that they know how and when to shelter-in-place. Teachers and students should all know shelter-in-place procedures just as they are trained about what to do in case of a fire or earthquake.  I encourage everyone to join us in preparing for the worst so that we may do our best during an emergency.”

This annual safety event gives children and their caregivers an important opportunity to practice responding to the Community Warning System (CWS) alerts, which includes a series of sirens along the waterfront from Richmond to Antioch. The CWS sounds a siren when there has been a dangerous chemical release or other disaster that requires a shelter-in-place. These alerts are also sent via radio, TV, and Social Media postings.
Hazardous material releases can result from many sources in Contra Costa County, including accidents at chemical treatment plants, wastewater treatment facilities, facilities that store and/or manufacture hazardous materials, refineries, but also from collisions involving trucks or trains that transport chemicals. The possibility of accidents, make it important for the county’s youngest members to recognize and respond correctly to shelter-in-place alerts.

Tony Semenza of CAER & Jack Grossman of Marchus School
Long-time Marchus School teacher and campus emergency coordinator Jack Grossman said, “The kids are always so cooperative when we hold our drills.” No argument from the members of CAER who were on hand to monitor the drill. As soon as school Administrative Assistant Michelle Kiernan gave the announcement over the PA, doors began closing up tight, and the few students and staff that were outside quickly followed into their classroom. At the same time, the school’s HVAC system went immediately into shutdown (so no dangerous air would pump into the campus buildings).
During the ten-minute shelter-in-place drill, the CAER people were able to check the entire campus to make sure all specific emergency measures were taken. After everything was checked, it was then back to business.

Semenza also reported, “This was a very successful drill, and I am so impressed with the different emergency plans that Grossman has generated for all types of emergencies this school could encounter: fire, bomb threat, earthquake, chemical spill or air quality, and intruder. Jack has each emergency readied with a campus-wide warning signal and specific procedures.” Grossman says that the school practices one of these drills a month.

Thanks to Grossman, Marchus School was able to secure an emergency grant from CAER earlier this year.  He used the money to purchase portable toilets, emergency supplies, and canopy tents. “We are equipped to safely stay on campus for three days, if needed,” says Grossman.

It was a very impressive drill, and quite notable how Grossman and other Marchus employees work so hard to keep their students and fellow employees safe.