Lookout Valley Middle/High School prepares early for tornado season

Lookout Valley Middle/High School prepares early for tornado season

March 21st, 2012 by Katie Ward in Local Regional News

Tornado season is upon us, with springtime weather changes merging cold and hot that could potentially develop into strong storms.

Lookout Valley Middle/High School principal Rick Rushworth said his school is ready to weather future storms due to numerous drills conducted throughout the school year.

Lookout Valley Middle/High School principal Rick Rushworth shows what a typical tornado drill at his school looks like from one hallway view. Students show the proper tornado drill procedure lining the walls next to the lockers.

Photo by Katie Ward

"We did one tornado drill this spring semester early in the season because of weather conditions," said Rushworth. "Prior to tornado season, we make sure teachers go over tornado drills with kids. We have safety drill directions posted at every room to show you where to go and what to do. The idea is to get out of areas with windows or glass."

He said he is responsible for the safety of 380 LVMHS students.

"The tornadoes on April 27 hit very close to the school," said Rushworth, who served as the school's assistant principal last spring. "There was damage within a quarter mile of the school. We dismissed early on April 27. The power was off and we tried to get students home. It made the situation more real to students and staff that it's a necessary drill."

This semester, he said March 2 in late morning he chose to bring students inside the main building out of the portable classrooms for safety reasons. He heard on his weather radio of the potential tornado.

"Severe weather developed in the middle of the day, so we shortened the high school lunch and we went into the hallway for a while," said Rushworth. "The students and the teachers get on their knees in the praying position and cover their hands over their head. Hamilton County Schools have a weather alert system to notify schools of snow, floods or tornadoes."

He said when in doubt the Hamilton County Schools policy is to head to the hallway without waiting on administrative approval. He said Hamilton County schools have a weather alert system tested on Wednesdays through email or texts.

According to Hamilton County Schools Assistant Superintendent Lee McDade, the law requires Hamilton County schools conduct at least three drills per school year: one tornado drill and one lock-down drill in the fall, and another tornado drill in February. When bad weather approaches, students go into real-drill mode.

McDade understands the challenges of dealing with disastrous weather firsthand after serving as LVMHS principal last spring during the April 27 tornadoes. Students were in the halls in the tornado position when a tornado touched down within a half-mile of the school at 9:30 a.m.

"We have TVs and weather radios on to watch the weather," said McDade. "I did not call one school March 2 that was not in the hallway in tornado mode. The director of transportation sends a text to all principals' cell phones in the event of a tornado watch."

McDade said students go to safety zones away from windows and doors, usually in hallways. He said students get on their knees facing the wall with their hands over their heads if the tornado is in the immediate area.

"[Recent local] tornadoes have raised the level of seriousness in schools during tornado drills," said McDade. "Tornado season is March through May. We hope for a quiet one the rest of the way."