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Drill brings confidence in face of 'disaster'

The mayhem started just after 8:30 a.m., as the walls started to shake and crash around the terrified teen-agers.

Or, at least, that’s what could have happened if an actual earthquake had struck Federal Way.

But Thomas Jefferson High School students weren’t waiting for the real thing to hit to get ready as they prepared for disaster Wednesday in an earthquake drill involving the entire school.

The test of the school’s emergency preparedness plan involved 110 faculty and 300 emergency response student volunteers among the student body of 1,600.

Split into rescue teams for each of the various campus buildings, the students along with a pair of faculty members opened doors containing simulated fire, water, gas, and electrical hazards as they searched for the mighty temblor’s victims.

After an air raid siren blared, teens flooded out of 11 campus buildings, and student volunteers held signs aloft for students from corresponding buildings to gather around.

Student runners, meanwhile, donned green vests and ferried messages between faculty commanders on the school field and search teams combing the imagined rubble of the campus classrooms.

It was the fourth-straight year for the so-called Mass Casualty Incident Drill orchestrated by the high school’s Student Emergency Response Club. The drill simulated a 7.2-magnitude quake, requiring all students and staff to evacuate the building and remain outside for an hour.

In the drill, the faculty found that 22 students were missing, presumably trapped in buildings.

Student emergency response teams joined faculty teams to rescue, treat and move the victims to the medical treatment area.

Other teams responsible for assessment and treatment of victims checked patients’ vital signs and reported to the incident commander — Emergency Response-Health teacher Monica Watchie -— and transported the pretend-injured on backboards.

Watchie said she incorporated more input from the faculty than in previous years. Unlike the student volunteers — many of whom have emergency medical technician training — the faculty members are thrust into leadership roles where many have no experience.

“All of a sudden there’s a lot more buy-in from the faculty,” Watchie said. “It’s pretty overwhelming the job they’re asked to do, and it’s all on paper. They haven’t trained.”

A Federal Way Fire District engine company was on hand to witness the drill and provide feedback. Debbie Goetz, a fire department spokeswoman, said Thomas Jefferson was one of the most advanced schools in the state in emergency preparedness due to the Emergency Response Club’s training, time and commitment to learning the search and rescue and medical skills.

“Never under-estimate the power of a 17-year-old,” Goetz said.

School Emergency Response Club President Jessica Allen, 17, said she was proud of her fellow students’ efforts Wednesday.

“It’s awesome,” Allen said, “because I know if something happens we can help people.”

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