Co-director Shari Smithson led 107 kids up E Street out of the tsunami hazard zone. They rounded the corner at Ninth Street and trooped into an emergency shelter set up at the Del Norte County Recreation Center. Since it was already a “minimum day” today, parents picked their students up at the Rec Center and called it an end to the school day.
“(We) evacuated to the safe point in 7½ minutes,” Smithson said. “We’re the only public school except for Klamath in the evacuation zone. We practiced the drill at least once a month.”
As soon as the sirens wailed at 11 a.m., numerous residents and downtown workers trekked up to safe zones near Crescent Elk Middle School or the Rec Center.
Most people seemed to be aware of the drill, as there was only a handful of calls to the local 911 dispatch inquiring about the sirens.
Members of the Crescent Fire Protection District drove up and down the evacuation zone spreading the message about the drill. More than 100 volunteers, including county employees and first responders, were posted at street corners to direct people to the nearest safe zone, said Cindy Henderson, Del Norte’s emergency services coordinator.
All of the tsunami sirens in the county worked properly for the drill, and the California Office of Emergency Services was able to contact local officials as planned.
The National Weather Service emergency alerts broadcast on radio, television and NOAA weather radios had slightly distorted audio and came on a couple minutes after the sirens, but listeners could hear the message being delivered, according to reports.
The Civil Air Patrol had planned to participate, but was grounded by rainy weather, Henderson said.
Overall, Henderson said she was pleased with the response from local residents.
“We had two people come running out of their house carrying a TV, but a fire truck was able to stop them,” she said. “We wanted to make sure everybody understood and got the message.”
Charles Tweed, operations manager for Del Norte Ambulance, stood at Ninth and H streets and watched people brave the chilly weather and sprinkles to get out of the tsunami zone.
“It’s nice to see people taking the drill seriously,” he said. “It makes our jobs as first responders easier when people know what to do.”
Inside the Rec Center, the American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter with 10 cots. Fifteen volunteers came to Del Norte from as far away as Santa Rosa and Portland and stayed to get a taste of what it would be like to run an emergency shelter, said Barbara Caldwell, spokeswoman for the Humboldt-Del Norte chapter.
Caldwell noted that it may take awhile after a real disaster for beds to be set up. And in an earthquake, the building may not even be standing.
“If it’s a big earthquake (people need to) find out if the building is still standing. That’s always the question,” she said. “And it’s a good reason people need to have a kit and a plan.”
“We were emphasizing that it’s really up to you to take care of yourself, because we might not have this open 10 minutes after the earthquake goes off.”
An emergency plan should also include pets, said Ginny Restad, coordinator for the Disaster Animal Response Team. She noted that the Red Cross shelter accepts service animals, but not pets.
“They either need to come to us or arrange for a place out of the zone,” Restad said.
On Sunday, DART volunteers took people on a pet walk along Front Street, stopping at different stations and giving them information on what to have in an emergency “Go Bag” for their furry friends. One of the most important things to keep in a Go Bag is a photo of a pet with its owner, Restad said. She pointed out that in a disaster, the capability of checking for a microchip may not be there.
“It all started with Katrina,” Restad said of the 2005 hurricane catastrophe. “Dogs were getting shipped all over the country because (their owners) had no ID.”
As the drill wound down, the Uncharted Shores Academy students stood along the south wall of the Rec Center while their teachers made sure everyone was there.
Director Margie Rouge said she hopes to be able to keep an emergency cache with blankets, food and water for the school at the Rec Center.
“Everybody has a job,” Rouge said. “We want to make sure our parents are not panicking.”
Adam Spencer contributed to this report.