This was only a test, Manhattan. The march of students from Manhattan High School West Campus down Poyntz Avenue Wednesday morning as part of an evacuation drill made for an impressive sight.
Approximately 1,200 students and 150 faculty and staff migrated from west campus to east campus and city hall with help from the Riley County Police Department. The line nearly extended from west campus to east campus at its longest, temporarily making it impossible for Poyntz Avenue motorists to turn and travel southbound between 17th Street and 10th Street.
MHS students who were physically unable to make the journey went to the Robinson Education Center just across the street.
“We’re really excited just to give it a try,” MHS Principal Terry McCarty said. Prior to the event, he said the goal was to conduct the drill in between 75 and 90 minutes, which involved walking there, taking attendance and walking back.
The evacuation drill is a part of MHS West safety week. Students and school personnel completed a lockdown on Monday, tornado drill on Tuesday and will have a fire drill Thursday and a lockout Friday.
Other USD 383 schools have done a safety week during the last two school years under terms of a two-year, $300,000 U.S. Department of Education Readiness Emergency Management for School grant.
Assistant principal Mike Dorst said the reason MHS waited until now is to allow for the renovation and construction at the school to be done first. “We wanted to make it a quality drill that we learned how to do in a building we’ll be in for decades,” he said.
Dorst said the evacuation drill is part of a nine-month process that involved securing an evacuation location with the city, getting advice from emergency and law enforcement personnel, and training. He said MHS would like to continue adding more evacuation sites.
McCarty said the success of the week started with an assembly Monday with law enforcement and emergency officials. He said the assembly set the tone for the students. “Manhattan High School students respond best when they’re treated as a part of the process,” he said.
Lexi Able, a senior, said the week has been a good experience so far. “It’s basically stuff they’ve been telling us since we were little,” she said. “They just gave it to us straight instead of sugar-coating it.”
Michael Hornsby, a senior, also sensed things are taken more seriously on this level. He said talk of bomb threats and a gunman in the school are things that weren’t addressed to them when they were younger.
Hornsby, who was away from school during the lockdown Monday, said the evacuation drill went smoothly. “It was pretty stress-free, I guess,” he said. “It was kind of unclear why we had to walk.”
Hornsby said he didn’t know what situation would cause an evacuation to the east campus to be necessary. Walking to another building differs from the usual procedure of having students standing outside the school during other evacuations that needed to be done.
Dorst said an evacuation that required walking to another building could involve a fire, utility issues or a bomb threat. But he added there are other things he couldn’t even envision that would also cause an evacuation of this type. “I wish I had the magic list of all issues that would require it,” he said.
After the drill, Dorst said it “far exceeded any of our expectations.” He said it took 10 minutes for the building to be completely evacuated and 73 minutes to complete the drill, two minutes faster than McCarty’s most optimistic estimate.
Reality intervened during the drill when emergency workers responded to a report of a mercury spill in one of the Manhattan High School East campus rooms. A small number of east campus students were evacuated from the area of the spill until it was cleaned up.