That’s what Jennifer Tilley has done as principal of Nixa’s Early Learning Center – fire drills, tornado drills, intruder drills, even earthquake drills. And those drills – along with the fortuitous arrival of emergency radios funded by the Nixa Community Foundation – served her well during a recent emergency that required a schoolwide evacuation.
The Nixa Community Foundation awarded the school a grant for $1,600 to replace four of its aging emergency radios. The school resource officer got a great bid that actually purchased seven radios with the funding. After the radios arrived and were programmed with the local frequencies, Tilley distributed them to classroom teachers – the seven new radios, and a couple of older ones still in use, meant every classroom now had an emergency radio.
A week later, on March 2, a car crashed near the school and hit a natural gas pipeline that serves the school and a nearby manufacturing plant. A few minutes later, firefighters told school officials to evacuate the school, which has about 100 students ages 3-5 and 32 staff members.
Tilley says she immediately kicked into her emergency training, but the planned evacuation meeting spot was too close to the gas leak. Orders from the fire department kept changing in the first chaotic minutes as teachers started hustling students to different areas of the parking lot and finally to a spot where busses would pick them up to go to the community center.
“We literally had all of our students and staff accounted for and on the buses in three minutes,” Tilley said. “I know it was those radios, I know it was.”
She said the staff could listen to the frequencies used for the buses and the school resource officers as well as communicate the changes of direction the evacuation was taking.
Once at the center, she wanted to make sure the situation was tightly controlled so they could keep careful track of the worried parents as they arrived to pick up their kids.
“We would radio the teacher to say a parent had arrived so we could have an actual one-on-one handoff,” she said.
“I cringe to think what might have happened had we not had the excellent means of communication on that day,” Tilley wrote afterward to NCF President Sharon Whitehill-Gray. “The timing could not have been better.”
For Tilley’s part, she said the experience helped improved their emergency planning even more. She said the school has put together a backpack of books to entertain the kids. She was lucky, she said, that a gentleman visiting the school that day to celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday brought his books with him when he evacuated. She’s adding a few other items such as diapers and wipes for the special-needs students who go to the school.
“Other than those few things,” she said, “everything went just like clockwork according to our plan.”