On labor day weekend in 2008 the high school in Parkersburg, Iowa
was ripped off the face of the planet by an F5 tornado. Fate was kind
in the timing of the disaster, as in the end no students were injured
because school was closed for the weekend. Had it hit just a few days
earlier it is quite likely that hundreds of students would have been
killed as the photographs of the building after the tornado show that
their "safe" areas were completely destroyed. In truth, one of the
only walls left standing was the wall of the band director's office.
While the Parkersburg tornado conjures up horrific visions of what could have happened, schools in general seem to have grown rather complacent in developing emergency procedures in the decade following the Columbine shootings. Ask yourself:
- When is the last time that your building had a real disaster drill apart from the mandated fire and tornado drills?
- When was the last time that disaster plan was reviewed or updated?
- Does it include other events such as intruders in the building or hazardous materials issues?
- What if there is a real fire during a rehearsal? Do the kids take their instruments out with them?
- What if there is a tornado alert and your only path to the shelter area is a hallway lined with plate glass windows on both sides? (yes, it has happened to me)
- Imagine having a room full of 50-60 students (or more) for a band rehearsal when a man with a gun enters the school. With that many students there simply is no way to hide in a corner or squeeze into a couple of practice rooms. What do you do?
- What if such an event occurs when you are outside the building for marching band rehearsal? Where do you go? How do you communicate with the administrators?