Visualize This: Tornado Preparedness at the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf

AASD PrepareAthon 2015When preparing for an emergency, it’s critical to address the unique needs and abilities of everyone in your family, office or school. The Atlanta School for the Deaf shared their insights from a recent tornado drill to illustrate how planning ensures they can successfully notify their students and staff during an emergency. Additionally, they provided preparedness tips that are applicable to everyone. You can learn more about the Ready Georgia resources available to Georgians with access and functional needs here.

By, Elyse Ferrell

Last week, thousands of students across Georgia heard tornado sirens in their schools and immediately moved to their designated shelter locations during Ready Georgia’s PrepareAthon! for Tornado Safety. But not my students – and I couldn’t be more proud of them.

I’m the Middle School Department Head and the Emergency Preparedness Representative at the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf in Clarkston, Georgia. While tornado sirens are a common signal to seek shelter or take cover, they’re irrelevant to the 200 elementary, middle and high school students at my school. Because of this, we’ve developed visual emergency systems and procedures to ensure our teachers, staff and students are immediately notified in the event of severe weather.

When we participated in the statewide drill last week, it was a tremendous success. So how did we do this without sounding a single alarm? How did we do this without the use of a traditional, audible alarm system?

  • Preparation: Like many schools, we have detailed emergency plans and clearly labeled tornado shelter locations throughout the school. We drill for tornados twice a year and conduct a weather or safety drill once a month.
  • Weather Radios: Every administrator has a deaf-friendly NOAA weather radio. These radios alert us to a variety of severe weather events with sounds, lights, and scrolling messages that inform us of the type of event taking place as well as its location.
  • Classroom Communication: Instead of an intercom or bell system, we make school-wide announcements through scrolling digital message boards located in every classroom and throughout our hallways. These boards signal the beginning of a drill and instruct teachers, staff and students to take cover.
  • Direct Communication: We have a communications system that delivers an interruptive message to all school desktops and laptops, as well as to personal cell phones and tablets that opt in to the system. During our recent tornado drill, a number of the middle and high school students knew the drill was beginning because of the text message they received from this system.
  • Look out for your neighbor: We stress the importance of looking out for one another during our drills. Each teacher checks the classrooms next to them to make sure they’ve seen the alert and are taking action. Even the students feel this responsibility for making sure their friends and fellow students know what is happening.

Once our staff and students are aware of the drill, they go to the designated safe area and crouch as low as possible to the floor, facing down and covering their heads with their hands – just like students at any other school. It’s important for us to think outside the box when it comes to our emergency planning and preparedness, but it’s important for all schools – hearing or deaf – to consider whether there are unique needs or scenarios that they should prepare for in advance of severe weather.

Elyse Ferrell is the Middle School Department Head for the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf in Clarkston, Georgia.