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McLaurin Elementary students take part in state tornado drill

March 15, 2019 GMT

FLORENCE, S.C. — Students and teachers at McLaurin Elementary needed only 70 seconds Wednesday morning to evacuate their portable classrooms and get into the main building during the state’s annual tornado drill.

“Anytime you have kids that are out in portables and you have to move them inside in the case of bad weather there is a concern there,” said Principal Debbie Cribb, who has 16 classes located in 15 portables at her school.

Cribb and Douglas Nunnally, who oversees security for the school system, supervised Wednesday’s drill.

Students filed in from their classrooms and portables and knelt, head down, in the hallways of the schools — the safest place in the building in the event of a tornado.

“We very often will have three or four rows deep of children because the halls are the safest place,” Cribb said.

After the “tornado” passed students evacuated the building.

“In the likelihood a tornado would hit the building it would be important for us, after the fact, to be able to get them out to a safe location so we’re going to practice that today,” Cribb said. Should the building get hit by a tornado the damage it might suffer could leave it unsafe for students to remain inside it.

After standing outside the building for a few minutes, students returned to their classes.

Overall time between the start of the drill and a return to classes was less than 10 minutes.

“Safety is our number one priority in Florence One Schools, and our school administrators welcomed the opportunity for our students to take part in today’s statewide tornado drill,” said Superintendent Richard O’Malley. “The drill provided an excellent learning experience for our students to practice what to do in case of the occurrence of a tornado or severe weather.”

During the spring and summer, storms frequently cause tornado watches (which indicate conditions are ripe for a tornado to form) to be posted for large swaths of the Pee Dee.

Cribb said she doesn’t evacuate her portables for watches, only warnings (which are posted when a tornado has formed).

“I alert them (teachers in portables) that we are under a watch and then I come in and monitor the radar on the computer. If things look threatening then I move them inside,” Cribb said.

Cribb said she prefers the live-feed radar to which the schools have access over the school’s weather alert radio, which has pride of place where it can be heard and not quickly silenced should it go off.

Cribb said she works closely with Florence County Emergency Management Division on weather situations — which have been rare at McLaurin. The school is located between National Cemetery Road and Freedom Boulevard (U.S. 301) just south of Florence Regional Airport.

“Since I’ve been here, which is about 18 years, I’ve only had to do it three times,” Cribb said. “Most of the time when severe storms are happening in the summertime I’m here by myself and I don’t have to worry about evacuating.”