Students evacuate school in mock drill to practice district readiness in the event of an emergency.

JONATHAN HOUSE - Twality Middle Schoolers hold hands as they leave the Tigard High gym en route to a designated spot where they would be reunited with their parents. The event was part of a disaster drill involving the Tigard-Tualatin School District and local law enforcement.When the Washington County Sheriff’s deputy stepped into the Tigard High School gymnasium on Friday, he was all business.

“Sheriff’s office. I’m here to help," he said, walking toward a group of students who cowered near a back wall. “Who needs help here?”

“I do,” a teacher said, lying on the floor. “I’ve been shot in the leg.”

Tigard High School hosted an emergency evacuation drill on Friday, March 20, preparing staff, students and administrators how to react in the event of an emergency.

In the emergency evacuation drill, about 75 students from Tigard High School and Twality Middle School were “evacuated” from Tigard High.

Deputies helped the “wounded” teacher hobble out of the gymnasium to get medical attention, then returned to take the students — each locked hand in hand — to waiting school buses which transported them to a safe location a few miles away.

In the mock scenario, Tigard-Tualatin sent word out to participating parents and volunteers, who rushed to the location — a school bus yard in Tualatin — to practice how the district would handle getting students reunited with their families.

Barbara Proctor, a former vice principal at Tigard High, retired last school year, but volunteered to lead the planning for how the district would respond if it needed to evacuate a building.

Proctor said it took about two months to prepare for Friday’s drill, working with local police departments to identify sites where students could be evacuated, and planning how to safely reunite students and family members.

Proctor said the district has six sites across the Tigard-Tualatin School District that can serve as emergency evacuation points, depending on the situation.

“We can take what we did here and move it to any site and it wouldn’t change how you do it,” Proctor said.

Students in Friday's drill were told to stay on the buses when they reached the location, exiting one-by-one as their parents arrived to collect them.

Once re-connected with their parents, the students were able to head home for spring break, hours before the rest of their classmates.

“That was the deal,” said Susan Stark Haydon, the district’s spokeswoman. “If they volunteered to help us with this, they got a head start on their spring break.”

Deadly precedent

GEOFF PURSINGER - Parents wait to be reunited with their children during an emergency preparedness drill on Friday. The Tigard-Tualatin School District was practicing how it would handle a school evacuation during an emergency, such as a school shooting. The drill comes nine months after a student opened fire at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, killing one student and injuring a teacher before turning the gun on himself. Last week, Reynolds High hosted an all-school assembly, thanking the first responders who rushed to the school that day.

It’s a problem that many schools are being forced to face in the wake of dozens of school shootings and other emergency situations across the country — how do you get kids home safely during an emergency?

During the Reynolds High School shooting, that district bused students to a nearby business parking lot to reconnect with families, but soon realized the site was too small for the mass influx of parents, media and loved ones.

That's what Tigard-Tualatin wants to avoid, Proctor said. With a plan in place, there won't be a question of how to react or where students will be sent.

Proctor said that Friday’s drill could be used for several emergency situations."

“There are a variety of reasons why you might need to re-unify at a different location; it’s not always a bad guy coming into a school,” Proctor said. “There are natural emergencies, (hazardous materials) situations, or something could happen in a building and we have to get everybody out.”

Practicing emergency evacuations like this is unusual, Proctor admitted. The district got the idea from the Hillsboro School District, which held a similar drill last summer.

“We realized that we needed to be prepared,” Proctor said.

Proctor worked with the organizers of the Hillsboro training, sharing information and ideas back and forth to create a system that worked smoothly and efficiently, Proctor said.

Practice makes perfect

Proctor said she wanted everyone to treat the drill like a real emergency, with grief counselors on hand to help struggling parents. Volunteers practiced "what-if" scenarios, including parents who arrived at the site only to learn that their child had been taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.

“We pretended that there wasn’t time to contact the parent ahead of time so everybody had to know that kid's name, and we brought in crisis counselors, and everyone tried to handle it as smoothly as they could,” Proctor said.

Manuel Trujillo, a former Tigard-Tualatin School Board member, volunteered to act as a parent, working his way through the crowd.

Trujillo, who speaks fluent Spanish, was asked to evaluate the drill from the perspective of a family that does not speak English.

“They kept directing us to these signs (that read ‘Parents check in here’ in English) but the sign can’t be written in English only,” he said. “No one had an ID that said they speak Spanish. I had to try to find someone to connect with.”

Trujillo said that drills like this are a good way to work out problems before a real emergency strikes.

“It’s good practice,” he said.

Proctor agreed.

“That’s why you drill,” she said. “You don’t do it for fun. You do it to learn and make improvements if you ever need to use it.”

Proctor said that the district will also begin working with other school districts to develop similar evacuation plans.

The city of Tigard took video footage of the drill and had photographers on hand to document the drill for future use, Proctor said.

“They’ll make a training video from the footage and that should be a really nice piece for other school districts to collaborate,” Proctor said.