Are Pierce County school kids ready for the ‘Big One?’ Drill helps them prepare

At exactly 10:17 a.m., a voice came over the loudspeaker at Truman Middle School in Tacoma.

“At this time, we are experiencing an earthquake,” it said.

That wasn’t true, but students in Marty Splinter’s sixth grade classroom ducked under their desks and covered their heads as if the room was shaking all around them.

The drill was called The Great Washington Shakeout, part of a worldwide initiative with more than 65 million people practicing to drop, cover and hold on.

About 1.5 million Washingtonians participated, with more than 238,000 of them residing in Pierce County.

This year, all Tacoma Public Schools — including the district’s Central Administration Building — participated in the drill.

At Truman, about 700 students funneled outside to line up with their classmates, and all was relatively calm.

“They did a great job,” said Clarence Wright, the safety and security officer at Truman. “At least I feel comfortable that we’re organized, ready to go.”

The drills hit close to home, with talk of the “Big One” — an anticipated 9.0 earthquake caused by shifting plates in the Cascadia Subduction Zone — hitting along the Northwest coast. In that scenario, it would take three hours for a tsunami to hit Tacoma.

Wright, who’s worked for the district for 28 years, said that the “Big One” is always on his mind in his line of work.

“I just hope it never happens,” he said.

Wright was at Truman when the Nisqually 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit in 2001.

“I was in the doorway in the main office, and you could see the building like a rubber band — flexing,” Wright said.

Both Wright and Truman students are aware of how different a drill is to the real thing. When asked if they think they’d be able to remain calm in the event of a real earthquake, some Truman students couldn’t say for sure.

“Just thinking about something that can happen that could change the lives of anyone in our community — that’s crazy to think about,” said seventh grader Will Fulwiler.

Students say they do feel better prepared after practicing drills.

“In the case it does happen, you know how to do it, when to do it without there being any chaos,” said eighth grader Donovan Dougherty.

At Truman, students participate in lock down, earthquake and shelter in place drills on the second day of school.

Wright said his job is to keep everyone safe in the event of a disaster.

“I know there’s going to be a little bit of crying, a little bit of shell shock for people, but I just want to be organized,” Wright said. “If someone wanted to come pick up their kid, we can account for their kid — we can make that happen.”