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South Valley Journal

Parents and children successfully reunited after realistic drill

Oct 30, 2019 03:24PM ● By Jet Burnham

NSA students were relocated to a shelter a block away. (Tana Archer/North Star Academy)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

On Oct. 2, North Star Academy held its first evacuation and off-site reunification drill. Students and staff evacuated the school and relocated to nearby MidValley Bible Church. Personnel and vehicles from the Bluffdale fire department were present to make the drill more realistic.

“It was not a convenient situation—it disrupted everyone's day,” said Jordan Shields, a parent and member of the school’s board of trustees. “But we felt like it was important that we practice something like that, so that if it ever happened in the future, it wouldn't be complete chaos.”

Parents were notified through the school app and emergency response system to pick up their children once the drill began.

“Parents had no idea what time the drill would be occurring,” said academy director Tana Archer. “They knew the day, but they did not know the time.”

Jayna Hunt said it only took about 40 minutes from the time she got the message to getting her eighth grader home. 

“It went very smooth—there weren't any problems,” she said. “I feel that it was very worth it for the school, students and parents to know what to do. Preparing is always worth it.”

Most parents left work or home to pick up their student. Others sent an approved family member or neighbor. For a few families, out-of-date landline numbers or emergency contact lists caused a delay.

“If they showed up without ID, they could not take the child,” Archer said. “If they were not on the emergency contact list, they could not take the child.” 

The drill helped work out these kinds of kinks so that a real situation would play out more efficiently.

Overall, the drill was a success, and students, staff and parents were patient with the process, said Shields.

“The whole system was so organized and so orderly,” Shields said. “Everyone was just ready to do their part and be helpful to make it successful.”

Shields serves as a member of the school’s safety committee, which planned the drill. The committee of parents, school staff and Bluffdale city representatives, has been working since January to update NSA’s emergency plan.

 “We tried to anticipate and work through all the small details that we could possibly think of,” said Shields. 

The committee also hoped the drill would spur some conversations at home to make emergency plans as a family.

A parent whose children no longer attend the school remained on the committee this year, as did Shields, who was scheduled to serve on another committee this year.

“We put so much work in that we wanted to be a part of it and see how it went,” Shields said.

She said for a first attempt at a major drill of this scale, it went well.

“Of course, not everything went perfectly, and we are making some minor adjustments for our safety plans for the future,” Shields said.

Archer said holding the drill was worth all the effort.

“I feel a lot more comfortable now having one if we ever had to,” she said.

Not all schools practice a full-scale evacuation drill. Because of concerns over the strain and disruption to some families, Archer said the school board revised its initial required drill to a recommended drill every three years.

Archer said NSA practices other safety drills regularly as required by law. They have become exceptionally efficient in the bimonthly fire drills.

“All 530 kids are out of the building, accounted for and headed back into the building in about five minutes from the pull of the drill,” Archer said. “We would not have it that fine-tuned if we weren't doing them that frequently.”

Every other month drills are held to practice for situations such as bomb threat, lockdown for violence and earthquake.