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SF School Holds Large Evacuation Drill

School leaders and emergency responders are hoping to learn from a mock evacuation drill held Tuesday in Sioux Falls.

All fourth and fifth graders from Mark Twain Elementary emptied their classrooms, rode busses to a safe location and waited for parents to pick them up. The reunification exercise puts school district policy in action.

Classroom telephones ring at Mark Twain Elementary. In this drill, teachers learn their students need to evacuate an unsafe building.

"She told us to line up, so then we lined up," fifth grader Gavin Solomon says. "Then we went outside, and we got onto the bus, and then the bus drove us here."

Solomon is one of 75 kids crowded into a hall at the protected location. Workers in bright safety vests identify the students, and the kids shuffle into a room locked for security. Red Cross officials supply water and snacks. Sioux Falls police officers stand guard.

Parents get an emergency notification to their phones, and they check in at a separate part of the building to pick up their kids. Bob Solomon says the process is straight-forward.

"Came through the doors, handed the folks at the table my ID, checked me in, sat down. The people with the Red Cross came up, made sure that I was doing fine, made sure that I knew I could get something to drink," Bob Solomon says. "Talked about the process, sat there for a few minutes, then  got picked up by you guys, and now I’m here."

Here is at a meeting point between the parent check-in and where the students are housed. A worker brings Gavin Solomon to his dad and helps them out of the building.

Education leaders have spent years crafting policies to improve school safety. DeeAnn Konrad with the Sioux Falls School District says this first real test of a large-scale reunification strategy.

"You can have the best laid plans out on paper, but, until you walk through it, find what the challenges are, the hiccups are along the way, you just don’t know," Konrad says.

Software developed by Sioux Falls School officials helped to streamline the drill. Konrad says a computer program helped authorities recognize specific students and parents were both on site, so aid workers could reunite them.

"And I heard from many of the people using it, ‘Wow. I can’t imagine doing this paper-pencil.’ And, frankly, up until today, we would have been doing it paper-pencil," Konrad says. "And there are many school districts and other organizations across the country that are not as far along in the process as we’ve come."

Konrad says the reunification exercise is the first real test of the software and of this part of the district’s emergency plan. School officials and community emergency responders are evaluating Tuesday’s drill to identify elements that worked well and examine how to improve the scenario in the event of a real emergency.

Kealey Bultena grew up in South Dakota, where her grandparents took advantage of the state’s agriculture at nap time, tricking her into car rides to “go see cows.” Rarely did she stay awake long enough to see the livestock, but now she writes stories about the animals – and the legislature and education and much more. Kealey worked in television for four years while attending the University of South Dakota. She started interning with South Dakota Public Broadcasting in September 2010 and accepted a position with television in 2011. Now Kealey is the radio news producer stationed in Sioux Falls. As a multi-media journalist, Kealey prides herself on the diversity of the stories she tells and the impact her work has on people across the state. Kealey is always searching for new ideas. Let her know of a great story! Find her on Facebook and twitter (@KealeySDPB).