One early morning not so long ago when we would normally expect school children to be settling into their first class, an entire school of them were instead calmly but determinedly walking the streets.
Normally, for a school fire drill, P.S. 254 students line up in the schoolyard and on the sidewalks around the school. Since the schoolyard is under construction, we figured that the children had to wait somewhere else for the drill to be over.
Supervisors and teachers, were holding manuals, binders, instructions, and signs while directing traffic and leading the children all the way to Ocean Avenue from the school at 1801 Avenue Y. They were concentrating so intently on getting the children away from the school that none of them heard me as I tried to ask about what was going on. Adding to the seriousness of this drill were a number of police cars parked at the major intersections.
Later, a conversation with one of the school crossing guards revealed that this sober march was actually nothing out of the ordinary. Since the September 11 tragedy, the Department of Education has instituted a special evacuation drill. The evacuation drill differs from a fire drill in that students are escorted to another school in the area, instead of waiting at the building’s perimeter.
The evacuation drill is similar to regular fire drills in that the students are given no warning and are not given any time to get their coats or bags, thus allowing for the speediest exit. This particular fall morning was chilly, but the sun and the brisk walk seemed to keep the kids from shivering.
Pedestrians and drivers, unaware of these drills, might find the situation alarming. So to keep informed about the safety procedures and drills, you can check the September 2007 Safety and Discipline Procedures memorandum and the Safety Plan (Section A-415) of the Chancellor’s Regulations. The NYC DOE also has a Safety Plan Guidelines for Early Childhood Centers which outlines rules for safe evacuation for community-based organizations.
Next time you’re driving down Ocean Avenue and find streets closed with children and their teachers moving hurriedly with police escorts — don’t worry — it’s just children being well-prepared for emergencies.