CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- An ordered calm fell over the hallways of Greenfield Elementary during what would be an intense situation if real. Assistant Principal Sarah Burnham surveyed the halls during Tuesday’s tornado drill at the school.
Achieving the efficient movement of students from their normal classroom to safer spaces requires a level of clarity and simplicity in messaging, Burnham said. She took over responsibility for keeping hundreds of students and staff safe when she was elevated to her current position.
“I think just the language and formality of it all. It's one thing to participate and hear the instructions, but to be the one giving the instructions, I wanted to make sure it was clear,” Burnham said. “Making sure everybody's comfortable with the procedures to keep emotions at bay, and to make sure that everybody is staying safe, and knows where to go knows the expectations; knows that there's adults around who love and care for them and that are here to keep them safe.”
Tuesday marked the statewide tornado drill in Virginia when schools and businesses were encouraged to practice their procedures in the face of severe, potentially deadly weather.
The Virginia Department of Emergency Management suggests a few simple tips:
- Go to a safe room: basement, cellar, or the lowest building level.
- If there is no basement, go to an inside room: a closet or hallway.
- Stay away from corners, windows, doors and outer walls. Never open windows.
- Protect your head
Every Chesterfield County School does at least two tornado drills each school year, and some but not all took part in Tuesday’s statewide drill.
“We do enough drills throughout the year, between fire drills, tornado drills, earthquake, that we kind of roll through them all. And now that tornadoes seem to be more prevalent coming through the area, it's it just increases the importance of why we do them,” Burnham said.
Tuesday’s beautiful blue sky was anything but menacing, but the staff at Greenfield had a very clear example of why this practice is needed, and not long ago. In September 2018, a deadly tornado outbreak killed a man on Hull Street Road and did severe damage throughout Central Virginia.
During that lockdown, Burnham was a reading specialist at Greenfield.
“You're definitely torn. You've got all of the people here to care for and support, and you've also got your family and loved ones out in the community or kids at daycare or other locations,” Burnham said.
If other businesses or schools see how well the students and staff at Greenfield performed Tuesday, Burnham said there is a reason behind the controlled calm.
“Just that constant communication, I think, and following back up with people like how did that work? Do we need to change anything? And not staying stagnant in those processes,” Burnham said.
March 6 through March 10 is Severe Weather Awareness Week for Virginia. You can find resources from the National Weather Service.