Better safe than scorched

We are ready for an unforeseen disaster …. as long as it happens during StIR time


Sarah Slaten

On Nov. 14, McCallum students evacuate the school during a first-period monthly fire drill. Though we prepare for disasters during first period, we don’t practice evacuating during any other class period, except for fifth period once. As a result, we are only familiar with the routes and procedures we would need to follow during first period. Photo by Sarah Slaten.

Sarah Slaten, staff reporter

The state of Texas recommends that a school hold fire drills in many different periods.

If you missed it, the MAC caught on fire recently. Only the curtain ignited and ultimately, no one was injured. But this event did bring increased attention to fire safety procedures at McCallum. Though McCallum follows the laws for preparing for disasters of all kinds, that doesn’t mean the procedures have students ready to face an actual disaster. Not only do we not have enough tornado, hurricane and lockdown drills, but the drills we do have almost exclusively been held during first period. This year, we have had only one drill outside of first period (and it was during fifth period at essential the same time of day). This is dangerous and unsafe because it only prepares students for one class period and one part of the building, which could lead to chaos if we needed to evacuate during any other class. The monotony also leads to both students and teachers not taking these drills seriously.

It’s not just a McCallum problem. Texas doesn’t have strict requirements for safety drills. The state only requires five drills: evacuation, lockout, lockdown, shelter and hold. Texas only specifies having fire drills once every month (with at least 10 days of school) and the other drills once per semester. Though Texas is rather lax with its safety procedures, it does have some guidelines for drills. One of these guidelines recommends that a school hold fire drills in many different periods.

Courtesy of AFD
The MAC theater after the curtain caught fire reignited a second time on Tuesday, Oct. 23 and the fire department was called. Photo Courtesy of the Austin Fire Department.

McCallum only holds drills (fire, tornado and lockdown, etc.) in first and occasionally fifth period. Though this is logical because those periods are 20 minutes longer due to student sharing, it has the unintended consequence of preparing students to evacuate from only two out of eight classrooms. We should occasionally hold drills at other times, which would help students familiarize themselves with different exit routes for evacuation and different areas of the school.

Do the math: there is only a 12 percent chance (one eighth not considering lunch) that McCallum will catch fire in first period. In theory, yes; we are high schoolers, and we could probably figure out how to walk out of a building. But if the school actually did catch fire, we would not be calm or relaxed. The failure to practice different exit routes jeopardizes our safety. An actual evacuation of the school from an unpracticed route would not go smoothly. No one would know which exit to go through, as McCallum has many, many doors. Everyone would be running around, which could lead to dangerous outcomes.

These drills have become so predictable and routine that nobody takes them seriously anymore.

Another product of having fire drills exclusively during StIR time (almost always first) is that students and teachers don’t take the drills seriously. These drills have become so predictable and routine that nobody takes them seriously anymore. Though this feeling of calm is good during a fire drill and helps to get rid of nerves around danger, we are not actually being sufficiently prepared for a disaster. In a real fire, no one is going to be calm. These evacuations don’t even feel like a drill anymore, just something required and routine. Yes, routine is good, but again, the routine is only for first period. We need to take these drills seriously, as our lives potentially depend on them. If we changed when the fire drills happen instead of keeping them predictable, we could get used to being less complacent about emergency preparedness than we are now.

The Texas Fire Marshal requires students to know how to get out of a building in the event of a disaster. Though all of us could probably figure out how to get out of the school, it wouldn’t be pretty. I cannot confidently say which exits I would take to get out of the math building, for example. So, technically, we are not in accordance with the Fire Marshal.

All in all, we would probably be fine in a disaster. Keyword being probably. There is a potential threat, one that should be addressed. We are supposed to be safe in school, and if disaster struck, we would not be sufficiently prepared. McCallum’s safety procedures need to be improved if it truly wants to be a safe campus.