Among my duties as a California public school teacher, I was to be prepared to rescue children from the rubble of an earthquake, should the Big One come along during school hours. We had no mountain lion awareness nor did we need to be bear savvy the way school employees must be here in the foothills. However, in Orange County, (which I have heard Northstaters refer to as “Darn Near Mexico”), we had to be prepared for a worst-case-scenario-type earthquake event. In addition to being trained in how to successfully teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, we had to be trained in the art of search and rescue, triage, and first aid.
What people in the Real World, (our little term for people not in the “Ed Biz”) don’t know is, school personnel are prepared to stay at the site until the last child has been delivered to parents or authorities in the event of a calamity. We even had food, water, and blankets in our classrooms to sustain us overnight if the need arose. I had nightmares about chaperoning a sleepover with twenty-eight frightened nine-year-olds.
There have been comprehensive studies done about what to expect at a school when a disaster occurs. The findings were this:
Parents will rush to the school, driving as far as they are able to, then abandon their cars and run the rest of the way in a hysterical manner. The first arrivals will get fairly close to the school, many even parking on the schoolyard, as well as the yards of the neighboring houses. The subsequent hysterical arrivals will be forced to abandon their cars increasingly farther back. This activity will block any arriving rescue vehicles completely. As I understand it, the opportunity for this study occurred when an errant boiler exploded at an elementary school somewhere in Texas. As a result of this study, the district administrators devised a complex plan to deal with any disaster that might befall us.
We had an elaborate role-playing practice drill one day instead of regular class. Several students and members of the staff were given little sealed envelopes containing tags that went around their necks to designate various injuries ranging from cuts to concussions. Some had tags that simply informed them that they were dead.
I already knew that I was to be a member of the Search and Rescue Team. This designation was probably given to me because I was in robust health and had given everyone the impression that I was calm under duress.
They didn’t know about the little dance I do when there is an emergency. (I call it my Turkey’s on Fire Dance, so called because I first performed it when a turkey I was cooking in a too-small pan set my oven on fire. It looks somewhat as if I have wasps in my underwear and one of my feet is nailed down. )
On the big day, the secret disaster code-bell rang. Everyone went into action. After delivering each of my ambulatory students to a pre-designated safe place and hanging the proper colored tag upon my classroom door, (red for dead and yellow for injured, and green for empty) I went on to my searching and rescuing.
I went into a classroom with a “dead” third grader in it. Now, you and I both know that most kids play dead with their eyes shut. This one had his eyes open, fixed and staring at nothing. There he was with his little Dead Tag hanging around his neck, not moving, not blinking, and most amazing, not giggling. He didn’t even break character when I said,
“Wow! You’re GOOD!!”
I waved my hand in front of his face. Nothing.
He didn’t budge when I said,
“OK, You. Get on the stretcher.”
No, my partner and I had to LIFT his limp, chubby, lifeless body onto the stretcher and carry him all the way to the triage dead pile.
If that kid isn’t acting in movies by now, someone dropped the ball.
Teachers are champions of multi-tasking, and I mean The Best. However I was always worried about those colored tags. Really! How was I going to gather crying, mortally frightened children, hack my way out of a room, (We were told the doors were likely to stick shut due to the twisting of the building in the quake.) all while determining whether a child might be dead or merely injured? I was guessing that the proper colored door tags were crucial. What if I thought someone was dead but he was only severely injured? Sometimes that isn’t clear, unless, of course the head happens to be severed from the body. More nightmares.
When the opportunity came to retire, freedom from this worry was the first thing I thought of. The second thing I did was pray that the Big One would just hold off until June.