Children across Contra Costa County participated in the 11th Annual Countywide Shelter in Place Drill on Wednesday to practice safety procedures in the event of a hazardous materials release.
At Murwood Elementary in Walnut Creek, students and staff assembled in the main school building and made sure doors and windows were shut tight, said Tony Semenza, Executive Director of the Contra Costa County Community Awareness Emergency Response Group, or CAER, which coordinated the drill.
“Remember,” he said, “this was a school that was only a few hundred yards away from the (gas) pipeline explosion a few years ago and that is about a quarter of a mile from Interstate 680 where you could have a tanker truck overturn.”
Children in day care centers and public and private schools were invited to practice responding to Community Warning System sirens, as well as radio, TV, social media and subscribed cell phone alerts.
Hazardous material releases could result from accidents at chemical or wastewater treatment plants, manufacturing or storage facilities and refineries, or from collisions involving trucks or trains that transport chemicals, according CAER.
Participants are asked to take shelter in enclosed areas and to shut off ventilation systems that bring air from outside indoors.
Semanza said his staff visited Murwood a week before the drill and inspected the school’s windows and doors to see if air might leak through.
The doors were airtight and no windows were cracked, he said. The staff was advised to evacuate four trailers on the campus and bring everyone to the main building, which includes rest rooms, drinking fountains and a cafeteria, he added.
“If they sheltered in place for a long time,” he said, “they could survive very well.”
In addition to the custodian, Semanza said several teachers were trained to shut off the ventilation in the event the custodian might become incapacitated or unavailable in an emergency, he said.
CAER also typically recommends that younger children congregate with teachers in large areas such as multipurpose rooms, where older students and adults can help support them, he added.
More information about sheltering in place is available by calling 925-313-9296 or by visiting www.cococaer.org. Click on “Prepare for Emergencies.”