BY MICHAEL J. RUDOLF and STACI WILSON
Halls, classrooms and offices stood empty in the Elk Lake School District on Friday morning during a comprehensive evacuation drill.
A caravan of buses carried students, faculty and staff about 10 miles to Montrose Area High School, and back. The entire drill took under two hours.
According to school district officials, the exercise went nearly flawlessly. There were a few minor problems, but the district had contingencies built into its evacuation plan to account for these.
Superintendent William Bush said the evacuation went as planned.
“I’m pleased,” he said. “Everything went well.”
Susquehanna County Emergency Management Operations and Training Officer Scott Aylesworth agreed with Bush’s assessment, “For a first attempt, this has gone very well.”
High School Principal Ken Cuomo said administrators will be meeting to evaluate the entire process from start to finish, to determine what flaws if any need to be corrected.
It was the first full evacuation and transport drill ever held in the county.
According to Superintendent William Bush, about 1,400 people were evacuated from the school. That includes students from kindergarten through 12th grade, along with those attending the Susquehanna County Career and Technology Center, plus almost all teachers, office personnel and others. Only a handful of people stayed behind, necessary to keep the building running so the school day could resume once the drill was over.
Bush said the district has conducted on-site emergency drills in the past, but this is the first time everyone has been evacuated to a remote location.
“If we had some incident on campus that needed to move everybody off campus, our nearest site is Montrose Area High School,” he explained.
Despite the fact that Elk Lake has a natural gas well on its property a few hundred yards behind the elementary wing, and several others within sight of the school, Bush insisted that their presence had nothing to do with the drill.
“We’ve been planning this long before the drilling came to Susquehanna County,” he said.
The drill was scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. It was delayed a few minutes when school officials learned that the Susquehanna County Emergency Management Agency was called out to another incident elsewhere.
Once the exercise started, students were instructed to report to designated areas inside the school, such as the elementary and high school gymnasiums, the cafeteria and the auditorium. They were called in groups to leave the building on their regularly-assigned buses.
Each bus had at least one teacher or staff member assigned to it.
One minor glitch that occurred was when some students and a teacher waiting in the auditorium didn’t hear their bus number called. They came out as the last buses were called to find theirs had already departed. However, administrators had arranged for an extra bus at the end of the line to handle overflow, so these people boarded that vehicle.
The buses pulled into the parking lot in groups of four or five, making stops at the elementary entrance, the high school entrance, the cafeteria and the high school gym to pick up the appropriate students assembled in each area. It took less than 20 minutes to get everyone onto the buses and on the road.
The evacuation route took the buses from Elk Lake through South Montrose to Montrose.
After disembarking the buses, the students filed into Montrose High School’s two gymnasiums. Once inside, teachers accounted for each student in the group.
They then got back on the buses and headed back to Elk Lake.
When the buses returned about 10:30 a.m., students again went to the various staging areas within the school, then returned to their morning classes.
Montrose High School Principal James Tallarico spent the morning as an observer, asking Elk Lake officials questions about how their drill was run.
Montrose is planning to hold a similar drill in the spring, Tallarico said.