School safety is something that we as a society have always taken pretty seriously. And today, there are dangers that we never gave a second thought to in the simpler times of our youth. There were no metal detectors or armed guards or fences reminiscent of a penitentiary. But, that’s not to say that there still weren’t dangers to prepare for and that’s why we all endured numerous emergency drills each year – to ensure that we all knew exactly what to do in the event the unthinkable happened. Let’s take a look back.
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.
And yet, despite the serious nature of this preparedness, the most common occurrence when that emergency bell rang wasn’t fear or a sense of responsibility. No, instead, this alarm was likely to 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 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 our 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.
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 interaction? Better yet, were you the person most likely to pull the alarm? Share your memories of this traditional school activity in our comments section, as we collectively remember the lessons we learned about staying safe.