Mock earthquake drill prepares students for disaster

“Attention, the earthquake has begun.”

Thomas Jefferson High School turned into the scene of an earthquake disaster Wednesday morning, but it was all just a drill.

This drill was different than most earthquake drills practiced by students in that it went beyond the standard “duck, cover, then evacuate” that most schools practice.

This drill featured dozens of students covered in stage makeup-created blood and bruises, injured and trapped inside the classrooms, while other students in coordinator Monica Watchie’s emergency health class, a health elective, searched the rooms and performed first aid and triage.

After the initial earthquake drill, where students ducked and covered, all of the students exited the buildings and made their way to the football field. Then it was time for the more than 500 students actively participating in the event to put into action everything they had been training for.

Jim Dillon, a former Thomas Jefferson teacher who now teaches at Todd Beamer High school, worked with Watchie to create the safety program 10 years ago. Dillon said that this plan is an emergency response plan — that is, a plan for the first three hours.

“What we’ve got is a great three hours,” Dillon said.

Teachers go through roll call on the field, just as they would in a real emergency, to find out which students are missing.

Groups make their way door to door, placing a slash on each door as they enter and another slash when they leave.

And all around the “x” includes information about what dangers are in the room, the time entered and if any bodies were left behind.

Runners — students that relay messages across campus — are also used in case the school’s walkie-talkies don’t work in a real emergency.

First responders like firefighters and police watched the event to evaluate the school’s plan and progress.

Deputy Chief Jerry Thorson of South King Fire and Rescue was one of those who watched the drill.

“All and all, his school gets credit for being head and shoulders above the rest,” Thorson said. “Monica deserves a lot of credit; for her not to lose her drive speaks a lot about her.”

This year, Watchie also added some extra challenges for the students: The roof theoretically collapsed in a room and trapped some students.

“We’ve been practicing this same drill for nine years,” Watchie said. “So I wanted to throw something at them.”

The drill has already paid off for Thomas Jefferson — as in the earthquake five years ago.

“That drill rocked,” Watchie said.

After the drill is over, administrators and emergency response teams will go over how the drill went and what can be improved.

“Attention, the drill is now complete, please go to third period.”

Contact Kyra Low: or (253) 925-5565.

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