Building resilience to natural and other disasters in schools

Sunday 5 February 2017

“We were not afraid, we knew what to do and where to go!”

Smoke in the corridors, lingering school alarm that sounded a fire emergency, fire engine and ambulance horns and sirens, as well as thick smoke surging from a burning vehicle in a schoolyard corner where the fire-fighters set up a fire exercise, did not scare off the 350 second-shift students who were readily, escorted by their teachers and other school staff members, without any panic and in full discipline, in a one-by-one column, leaving the school building to gather at previously designated gathering points where they had roll-calls in order to make sure that they all left the school safely. All this is happening at the Ivan Goran Kovacic Elementary School in Gradacac, during a fire drill dubbed “Evacuation and Rescue in Case of Fire,“ held within the project named “Building resilience to natural and other disasters at education facilities in local communities“ which Save the Children has been implementing in the territory of Gradacac, Samac and Brcko District.

“We were not afraid, we knew what to do and where to go. We have learned not to panic. The drill was interesting, and what we liked most was putting out fire in a burning car, we heard alarm sounding, we saw fire-fighters in the hallway and heard fire engine sirens, so in case of a fire we now know what to do,” Lara and Sara, Ivan Goran Kovacic elementary school students from Gradacac, told us at the gathering point following the exercise.

During such drills, as well as during quiz exercises to test their theoretical knowledge, held in the framework of final activities and presentations organized in the aftermath of the drills, more than 1500 students, teachers and other staff members from schools in the foregoing municipalities took part, and proved their increased resilience when it comes to such disasters. The children demonstrated what they had learned, and were without any panic or additional risk evacuated from the school as quickly as possible, with the help of their teachers, while also “rescued” were school materials and equipment.

Taking part in school and municipal drills were students from the elementary schools of Musa Cazim Catic from Zelinja Donja, Gornja Slatina from Samac, Safvet-beg Basagic and Ivan Goran Kovacic from Gradacac, and the Tenth Elementary School from Bijela and the Eighth Elementary School from Brka. While demonstrating their practical knowledge during fire drills, it is through quiz tests, presentations and theme shows that the children showed their knowledge of natural and other disasters. Final activities were held in the framework of one of the components of the mentioned project, which is the campaign carried out by Student Councils from the schools, with the aim of raising awareness of the risks of natural and other disasters. In the framework of the project, the schools were donated equipment with which to additionally improve fire protection and protection in case of other disasters.

The drills were supported by the local community through the participation of Red Cross teams, health centers, members of fire units, police and civilian protection.

“I am glad that we were able to apply in practice everything we had learned about over the past period and what we had talked about with our teachers. For the first time I had the opportunity to try operating fire equipment and see for myself how everything works, and I am glad I now have that sort of experience too,” says Admira, ninth grade student and president of the Student Council at the Musa Cazim Catic elementary school from Zelinja Donja. During the drill, over a rather short period of time, 220 first-shift students, together with their teachers and other staff, arrived at two gathering points in the schoolyard, which was the same place to which the fire-fighters, having completed the roll-call, evacuated the “injured” persons, and where Red Cross members demonstrated how to give first aid.

“Above all, the children showed a great interest, they wanted to learn as much as possible and show all that to their friends. The girls and boys who played „the injured ones“ took their roles very seriously, during the demonstration they all gathered to see how to render first aid, they saw us and medical teams in action, they got to know more about the ambulance, and in case of a real situation they would surely know whom to turn to and how to behave,” said Kenan Mesanovic, a volunteer- president of the Gradacac Red Cross youth organization. Having demonstrated the giving of first aid, the fire-fighters showed the children how to put out fire by fire extinguishers and water jets, and also showed them their fire equipment.

“It was exciting and educational! I had already had a chance to use a fire extinguisher once when my sofa caught fire, but I have never tried a water cannon!”, says Armin from the Ivan Goran Kovacic elementary school. Also having an opportunity to try a fire hose was Bekir, sixth grade student from the Safvet beg Basagic elementary school, whom his friends evacuated during the drill in his own cart.

“I've put on a fire helmet, it was great!”, says Bekir, while his mom Fakiza added she was pleased he had taken part in the fire drill:

“See how happy he is, his smile tells you everything. I believe such exercises are useful, and I now feel more confident bringing Bekir to school when I know that everyone is ready and know how to react in case of danger,” Bekir's mom Fakiza told us. Agreeing with her is Senada, whose son Edin also attends the fourth grade of the same school:

“Children's safety is what's most important. Whichever parents you ask, they will tell you the same, which is that we support such activities,” Senada says.

Third-grade teacher at the Tenth Elementary School from Bijela, Ivana Kovacevic, says that during the drill held at the school the kids needed slightly more than a minute to go out of the school and gather at the previously designated gathering point without any panic and in full safety. She went on to say she was pleased with what was achieved, adding she too for the first time had the opportunity to operate a fire extinguisher.

“Fire is something that may happen any time, and it is good that all of us in the school are ready and know what to do in such a situation. I am glad that during the drill I too had the opportunity to operate a fire extinguisher, so now it is easier for me to relay onto others how to use it, plus we are also trained in how to act in case of other disasters and emergencies, and will in any case be more ready to respond in case some of them should indeed strike,” teacher Ivana said.

Ramo Mujanovic of the Professional Fire Unit Brcko was monitoring the drills taking place at the Tenth Elementary School in Bijela and the Eighth Elementary School in Brka.

“I have long been in the business of fire protection education and training, and I can say this has been very positive. The children and their teachers have felt the atmosphere, heard the sirens, and are now more ready to react in a real situation without any fear or panic. It pleases me immensely to see that in these two schools they intend to continue staging such drills, so we, the fire-fighters, are pleased to know that we now have schools where the children, their teachers and other school staff have been trained to react properly in case of fire. Especially because these two schools are rather remote, it would take the fire-fighters more time to get here, and it surely is much easier to know that the teachers are ready and properly trained to save the kids, themselves and material goods until we arrive, which is the objective here,” Mujanovic said.

His colleague from the Gradacac Fire Unit, Sinisa Bakovic, also could not hide his joy at what he had just seen:

“The kids reacted great, they cooperated, and, what's most important, everything went without any fuss, panic or delay. They all reacted well to our presence at the school, they followed additional instructions and with great attention watched and took part in the equipment demonstration exercise. When fire breaks out it is necessary to react quickly and adequately, and we are glad that in our zone we now have three schools in which everyone is ready to respond in the right way to fire or some other emergency, and thus facilitate our job in case something happens.“

School headmasters, together with their staff, took an active part in the project, preparation and implementation of the fire drills and quiz tests. It is through the participation of all relevant actors and direct support from Save the Children representatives for every school that took part in the project that action guidelines and evacuation plans have been drafted, with clearly marked routes of evacuation and gathering points.

“Through such exercises we in a way introduce 'seriousness' into the behaviour of our children, but also our teaching and other school staff, since they all together had the opportunity to implement in practice what they learned during the project through workshops, and on which they worked together. It is through these drills that we could also identify certain flaws and shortcomings, and find out what needs fixing. I am glad that the parents have been informed about all this, their reactions were very positive, and during the project they were able to learn a lot from their children. It is important that we now have action guidelines, we have a plan, and will continue to work out details, with the objective being to have a fire drill each semester,” says Petar Mendes, the headmaster of the Tenth Elementary School in Bijela near Brcko. The headmaster of the Gornja Slatina elementary school from Samac, Cvijeta Jovic, underlines that children's safety is something that needs to be worked on continually. Other schools' headmasters also share the same opinion, claiming they intended to organize such drills at least once a year, hoping that the signed memoranda of cooperation between the actors and the guidelines and action plans will be of use in the future so the generations to come could take part in such drills too.

“From the viewpoint of civilian protection, this project's importance has multiple aspects. Various activities have brought together all actors, it has been clearly defined who goes where, activities have been synchronized, and one was able to see through these drills just how everything functions in a real situation. Following an analysis, it will be established which segments need to be improved and corrected in order to perfect preventive measures so in the future, in case of natural and other disasters, we could avoid human casualties and damage to materials and equipment,” says Isam Sendic, Head of the Gradacac Municipal Civilian Defence.

Save the Children's Dragan Licanin closely monitored all these drills and previous activities in which he took part together with members of municipal working groups, with his particular assignment being to put smoke into the rooms so everything could be as realistic as possible.

“The objective is to raise the level of resilience of schools, children and teachers so they could be more ready to respond to natural and other disasters. Through the fire drill the children were able to see and feel how all they have been taught during the project really looks like in practice, they showed us they can and know how and what to do, in which they were assisted by their teachers, school staff and the local community, while we as an organization stood at their disposal so everything could go as smooth as possible,” Licanin said.

Save the Children Program Director Ahmed Pjano said he was pleased with what has been done. In addition to the importance of organizing fire drills with the participation of children, but through which other actors too were activated, such as fire-fighters, police or health care institutions, he also points to the need of continual work with children.

"It is especially important to raise the awareness of decision-makers and relevant institutions that have the obligation to pay particular attention to the children, not only when a crisis strikes, but also at the stage of thinking and planning, wherein the already drafted action plans are of particular importance. The project also targets the parents, who have also raised their awareness of the need to build resilience to natural and other disasters. What we have seen from what has been done so far is the commitment of all actors to work on continuing the process even after the completion of current project activities," Ahmed Pjano concluded.

To see how evacuation drills looked in practice, watch this video:

In addition, see educational videos in which students from Gradacac and Brcko District are helping us in building disaster resilient schools: