Emergency Drills

Emergency Drills

We as a society have always taken school safety seriously, and never more so than today. But, while we may not have contended with metal detectors and armed guards during our collective childhood, there were still real dangers we faced. Thus, we all endured numerous emergency drills each year, ensuring that we all knew exactly what to do in the event the unthinkable happened.

Considering that the dangers ranged from a small fire to armageddon, we were given rather simple instructions. If an earthquake were to hit, we were told to stand under a doorway or get under a sturdy piece of furniture. If a tornado was headed our way, we were to make our way to a hallway (always in an orderly fashion, regardless of the calamity) and get our bodies low to the ground.

A fire meant you calmly made your way to the nearest exit with your classmates, then headed to a designated area, usually located a safe distance from the building. And should the granddaddy of disasters hit, the dreaded nuclear attack, we were taught to duck and cover. This was all good advice, with the exception of an A-bomb. No wooden desk or body contortion was likely to make the slightest difference, but at least we could feel a sense of accomplishment before being vaporized.

Despite the serious nature of this preparedness, the most common reaction to when that emergency bell rang wasn’t fear or a sense of responsibility. Rather, the alarm would often elicit an eruption of cheers throughout the building. Didn’t really matter if it was a fire or a drill, or just a juvenile delinquent pulling the alarm switch as a prank, the result was the same – a reprieve from whatever you were doing, whether it be a tedious lecture or, better yet, a test.

Once that alarm rang, you knew you were probably all headed outside to catch a few rays of sun and some social time with your friends. And after the “all clear” was given, the return to class was far less efficient or expedient – as many of us took a little “personal time” to get a drink, use the bathroom, or just loiter aimlessly without the need for a hall pass.

Somehow, we all seemed to get a little lost finding our way back to the classroom, despite knowing the layout of the building like the back of our hand. And, if we were caught by a Bobby-Brady-wanabee hall monitor, one could always fall back on excuses such as “I got confused” or “I wasn’t sure where to go” or any other creative idea we could muster on short notice.

But whether we took them seriously or not, we were still better prepared for an actual emergency than if we had received no instruction at all. Most importantly, this practice served to keep us calm and collected in the event of a disaster, even if the first reaction to the bell was a smile on our face, knowing that our schoolwork was being temporarily put on hold. Pavlov would have been proud.

Simpler times, indeed.

What are your memories of emergency drills at school? Did you grow up during the Cold War, well versed in what to do in the event of nuclear strike, or did you grow up in more peaceful times when fire and other natural disasters were the prime focus? Did you behave and follow instructions, or immediately seek out your friends for some social time? Were you the person most likely to pull the alarm?

We hope you’ll take a moment to share your memories of participating in emergency drills in our comments section below.

8 Responses to “Emergency Drills”

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  1. Jennifer harris says:

    I hated those things. The Fire drill was so loud. The Tornado drill was a neusence,the teachers never did it with us.

  2. Timothy says:

    I remember at the school I went to in 2nd and 3rd grade, the teacher would announce a pending fire drill to the class so we all could get our coats on, especially during the winter. I always hated those loud fire alarm bells and I was one of many kids holding their ears as we made our way through the hallways to the exit, especially if the route from our classroom to the exit took us directly past one of the ringing fire bells.

  3. Allie Fox says:

    My Elementary school was doing Air Defense Drills until the early 70s. I can remember going under the desk and covering my head waiting for the bombs to start falling. Later we would go in the hall and face the wall, put our head to the floor and cover our heads with our hands. They called it a “Tornado” drill but we knew what it was. 😉

    Fire alarms got more fun as we got older. In High School the teacher, upon hearing the fire alarm would announce that it was a fire ALARM not a signal to FIRE up a cigarette while outside.

  4. Craig says:

    I went to elementary school in the Philadelphia suburbs in the ’60s. We had regular “Air Raid Drills” where we were to go under our desks and cover our heads, just as in the black and white picture at the top of the page.

  5. Rick Lincroft says:

    I vividly recall doing “duck and cover” drills, in the 1960s.
    We lived in central New Jersey, right between a major US Navy Weapons Depot, The US Army Electronic Warfare Command, and New York City. And surrounded on all sides, by tempting secondary targets, like BOMARC and Nike missile bases.
    I remember that even the parents made it pretty clear, that if they dropped the “Big One”, it was all over.
    Last year, my 10-year old niece told me her school now has “Insane Mass-Murderer Drills” (aka: Lockdown).
    Sadly, I guess some things never change.

  6. Jim Vanides says:

    In California we not only had duck and cover drills, but we also had one or two rounds of an evacuation drill -ostensibly in the event of a pending nuclear attack. We were all lined up by neighborhood, and each group was color coded. We were told that if was not just a drill, we would then run home as a group.

    Does anyone else remember this?

    I would love to learn more about what adults actually had in mind when they created this drill!

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