A fake crash, but a real response: Schools test their ability to relocate students, staff in an emergency

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MICRO — The accident on Jan. 23 was imaginary. A tanker truck had not really spilled hazardous chemicals onto Interstate 95.

But the response was real: The Johnston County school system, with help from law enforcement and emergency services, really did evacuate nearby Micro Elementary School.

The exercise was designed to see if the school system could quickly relocate students and staff in case of an emergency.

The answer was a resounding yes, said Kevin Hubbard, director of Johnston County Emergency Services.

“The exercise went great,” he said. “Our staff was observing and taking notes on the entire exercise, and I do not have any suggestions on how we could have improved on anything.”

Here’s how the exercise played out:

After the tanker crashed at 9:30 a.m., a call went out to North Johnston High School, where eight buses were parked. Drivers boarded the buses and drove them to Micro Elementary, where students were lining up for the trip to North Johnston Middle School on the other side of town. Along the route, law enforcement was in place to handle traffic.

“It was as orderly at it could have been, and the staff was well prepared,” Hubbard said, tipping his hat to the folks at Micro Elementary.

T.J. Parrish, principal of Micro Elementary, was appreciative too. “We were able to evacuate our campus very efficiently, and I was proud of both our staff and our students,” he said. “Our teachers had worked to prepare our students very well beforehand, and the students followed instructions very well.”

Johnny Dixon, chief of the Micro Volunteer Fire Department, had his hand on a stopwatch. It took only 22 minutes from the time the buses arrived at Micro Elementary School until everyone was seated and accounted for in the North Johnston Middle School gym, he said.

The agencies taking part in the drill included the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office, Micro Police Department, Micro Volunteer Fire Department, Johnston County Emergency Services and the Johnston County Public School System. Planning for the drill began last September with weekly meetings.

Chase Ferrell, the school system’s safety officer, said the exercise was an outstanding collaborative effort. “We were able to put our best foot forward and help strengthen the relationship between the schools and emergency services while ensuring the safety of all of our students,” he said. “Everyone did a great job, including the students, teachers and first responders.”

Sheriff Steve Bizzell also gave the exercise high marks. “Public safety is the number one priority of government, and it does not get any better than this,” he said. “This was really a dose of reality, and it was impressive how well it went and how well everything worked together.”