Tornado drill preparation pays off in Worthington schoolsWORTHINGTON — A recent tornado drill had prepared the students at Worthington High School well for Friday’s blast of severe weather.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — A recent tornado drill had prepared the students at Worthington High School well for Friday’s blast of severe weather.
“When the sirens sounded, within three minutes we were all in position,” reported WHS Principal Paul Karelis as he ushered the last of the students out the door on Thursday afternoon. “Two weeks ago, we had a tornado drill, and we had tweaked a few things to make sure our kids were in the safest possible spots.”
A few students, who were participating in an outdoor-themed class, were caught out at the gun range located north of Worthington on U.S. 59, not far from where a funnel cloud was spotted. The instructor, Karelis said, walked the group over to Nobles Cooperative Electric, where the staff provided shelter throughout the storm’s duration.
At the high school building, the students were instantly mobilized as the city warning system went into effect.
“Once the sirens sounded, I’ll bet it wasn’t 15 seconds that we had the kids moving,” Karelis said. “I was out of my desk and on the PA system.”
Several areas of the high school building have been designated as the safest spots during a severe weather event.
“We have the north hall, which has a cement ceiling in it,” Karelis explained. “All the kids who are in the upper level go into the lower halls, away from any entrance points that could create a wind tunnel.We have internal rooms, without any windows, and the locker rooms have cement walls all around.”
By the time it was deemed OK for students to leave their safety zones, it was almost time for school to dismiss, which posed a few additional problems for staff. By shortly after 3 p.m., the halls of WHS were completely emptied of students.
“We were about six or seven minutes away from dismissal, and we wanted to get the kids home as quickly as possible,” said Karelis. “We had a few problems with bussing issues, with people coming to pick up their kids and clogging up the entrance routes”
But overall, Karelis was pleased with how his students and staff reacted in the face of a potentially dangerous weather event, knowing that the school’s preparations had paid off.
“It was a scary situation,” he said with an obvious sigh of relief. “It was a good reminder that we have to be serious about these things.”
Emergency procedures in all other District 518 buildings also went smoothly, superintendent John Landgaard said Friday afternoon.
“They followed the established plan,” Landgaard said. “They’re all put in each building’s designated tornado safety areas. When the siren goes off or if we get a phone call or notification of severe weather, we put them within those safety zones.”
Landgaard said the tornado warning resulted in emergency procedures being followed by about 3,060 people, a number that takes into account school district faculty, staff and students.
“Everything went smoothly — that’s why we practice the drills,” said Landgaard, adding that he was unaware of any weather-related damage to school property.
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers may be reached at 376-7327. Managing Editor Ryan McGaughey also contributed to this story.