They all knew the drill.
Desk chairs were pushed in and single lines were formed. On Wednesday students across the state crouched against school walls with heads ducked low as part of Georgia’s annual severe weather drill.
The drill is performed in the middle of Severe Weather Awareness Week, a statewide campaign to equip citizens with the safety tools they need to prepare in case of natural disasters.
Kim Davis, assistant principal at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School, said their drill went off without a hitch Wednesday, despite a change in their evacuation plan.
The school had to evacuate last fall because of flooding, and children were transported by bus to prearranged backup schools. Since then, fifth-graders were moved to the second level of the school, and Wednesday was the first time staff practiced evacuating them to the lower level.
“The drill went very well,” Davis said. “The more you practice, the calmer the kids will be.”
Staff at Lyman Hall Elementary School know firsthand the benefits of practice drills. When the school was abruptly struck by an F1 tornado Aug. 26, 2008, staff had minutes to evacuate 65 YMCA after school students from the gym. The gym roof was later ripped off by the storm.
“It made a definite impression on everybody,” said Assistant Principal Veronica Grizzle. “It showed us how important planning ahead is because we had drills so many times and it paid off.”
Grizzle was the only person injured at the school that day. She slipped in a puddle of water as she helped soaking wet children from buses inside the school before the storm arrived.
Staff did not hear the tornado siren that day until a person opened a door and another school called to warn them. They continue to rely on civil defense radios and a TV kept in the main office for weather warnings. In the aftermath of the storm, officials implemented warnings that would alert school leaders on their mobile phones.
Gainesville has an history of deadly weather. The tornado that damaged Lyman Hall Elementary School was one of three F1 storms that ripped across Hall County that day, causing $3.36 million in damages to homes and businesses. Also, in 1998, an F3 tornado raced across North Hall and White counties, killing 12 people and damaging North Hall High and Lanier Elementary. Downtown
Gainesville was destroyed in 1936 by an F4 tornado that killed 203 people.