Students Practice Emergency Evacuations

Thursday, March 27 2014

Unalaska students wait out the drill at City Hall. (Pipa Escalante/KUCB)

For the most part, Unalaska was shielded from the devastation of the 1964 earthquake. But there’s no telling if it will be next time. That’s why Unalaska and dozens of other communities around the state kicked off a series of emergency drills today.

KUCB’s Lauren Rosenthal has more.

Every two years, the state’s Department of Homeland Security will invent an emergency for the Alaska Shield exercise. Communities spend a few days responding to fake ice storms, power outages -- whatever the Department throws at them.

This year’s exercise falls on the anniversary of the 1964 earthquake. So it’s appropriate that this year’s imaginary disaster is a large earthquake and tsunami.

In Unalaska, that means one thing:

[siren sounds]

The city activated tsunami sirens at 10:15 on the dot this morning. Students from the elementary and high schools swung into action. In Peder Jeppesen’s sixth grade classroom:

Jeppesen: "We heard the drill and we went under our desk."

Then, students evacuated to high ground, just like they would if there were a real tsunami.

The elementary school students walked up to a residential neighborhood, while older students headed for City Hall. Municipal employees met the kids with snacks and juice -- a big plus for middle school students. According to them, the drill was:

Students: "Awesome!" "Cool!"

Pipa Escalante: "Why?"

Student: "Because we got cookies!"

Students went back to school for a short assembly, led by public safety personnel. Police chief Jamie Sunderland was responsible for talking to older children.

Sunderland: "I think it’s always important to know why you’re doing something. And it’s one thing to say, okay, we’re having a drill, trudge up the hill. I’m just trying to explain why we’re doing it."

Alaska’s a hotbed for seismic activity, like the 1964 earthquake, and other big ones.

Sunderland: "And some of those giant earthquakes have occurred just south of us in the Aleutian Trench, which runs just south of our island. So you know, there is a threat out there."

Tomorrow morning, Unalaska will pretend to face its worst fears. A fake earthquake will strike, and the city will open a command center and shelter. On Saturday, the police and fire departments will be called to respond to another big emergency. Until then, just what kind of an emergency is a secret.

That way, first responders can put their skills to the test -- and make sure that when disaster really strikes, they’re as ready as can be.

KUCB's Pipa Escalante contributed to this story.

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