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Schools prepare for any disaster

"April is Earthquake Awareness Month, but schools on Whidbey Island are preparing for any disaster.An earthquake, fire, wind storm or tsunami -- you name it, they plan to be ready.Representatives from all three island school districts gathered on South Whidbey Thursday for a few hours of island wide school sharing when it comes to disaster planning.Jan McNeely, district emergency chair for the South Whidbey district, presided over a good turnout of school officials, law enforcement and other emergency personnel. Chris White represented the Langley Police Department, Paul Busch Fire District 3, and Ray Tasch the Island County Sheriff's Department, among others.Also present was T.J. Harmon, director of Emergency Services for Island County. Harmon walked the group through disaster scenarios, beginning with a sizeable earthquake.As you are working at your desk, a loud boom followed by a strong jolt suddenly rocks the building. The shaking continues, until the floor is violently rippling. The lights go out. Cabinets and chairs overturn, alarm systems are going off . . .Harmon read the scenario, and the school planners told how South Whidbey, Coupeville or Oak Harbor would respond -- how the schools would communicate, where the children would find safety, and what kind of supplies are available, for example.The replies showed a range of readiness, with McNeely's South Whidbey primary school perhaps most prepared because she's been involve with emergency planning for several years. Angela Rogers, an EMT who works at the high school, said that facility in not yet where it should be in emergency planning.Nor is all of South Whidbey ready for anything quite yet, said Busch, assistant chief of Fire District 3. We've got a long ways to go down here, he said.Communications is a particular problem, Harmon noted, as cell phones don't work when regular lines go down or are interrupted. Hand-held radios and other professional and amateur radios are the the most dependable devices in an emergency, Harmon said.But that's the whole point of getting together, McNeely noted. We formed this island-wide consortium to support people, she said. To have a plan, no matter what the emergency is.Primary school principal Bernie Mahar commended McNeely for her thorough preparations there. She's done a fabulous job with it, Mahar said.The primary school students know how to evacuate the building, where to go next (the church across the street), and emergency food and other supplies are available for three days, according to McNeely.McNeely is leading a district-wide effort to have all personnel trained in CPR and first aid. There are now 10 certified trainers within district, so the goal of having everyone trained should be achieved soon.Now she's broadened the emergency planning communication to include the island's other school districts. It went really well, she said after the meeting. Everybody is on the same page.Planners should know better where they stand this spring. Harmon said a full-scale, county-wide exercise will be conducted May 19 to see how the various schools and agencies react to a simulated emergency situation."

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