As the practice fire alarm began ringing Sept. 23, students, knowing they would be missing class due to the drill, chatted amiably with one another and meandered outside until they located their classmates and teacher.
Fire drills or evacuations at CHS are meant to prepare students for an actual emergency, but the constant presence of these exercises throughout the school year has reduced their effectiveness. The intention of holding these monthly occurrences is a positive desire to maintain student awareness in cases of emergencies. However, as students do not always take fire drills seriously, such exercises decrease the emphasis on other types of emergencies and take away from important class time.
In addition to evacuations, CHS safety exercises include lockdowns and shelter drills for outside threats such as luring criminals, dangerous animals and inclement weather. While the aforementioned threats may not occur as often as fires and chemical spills, they are as dangerous. However, fire drills are far more common.
According to Principal Joan Benz, CHS holds at least 10 drills overall each year, as mandated by the state fire marshal, but only a few are lockdowns and shelter drills.
CHS tries to assure that students take evacuations seriously by having teachers keep an eye on students while communicating with one another. Thus, teachers are supposed to maintain order and escort students out in a quick and organized fashion when evacuating the building. However, students tend to form packs with friends from other classes and stroll through the hallways until they reach the door.
After walking outside, students must locate their teacher and go through roll call before waiting for the signal to re-enter the building. This stalls returning to class, affecting the curriculum because the classes during that period of the day will have fallen behind others on classwork and learning of concepts.
According to Benz, teachers dread unannounced evacuation drills the most because they are “time consuming.”
Although one may argue that fire drills are necessary in order to keep students aware of safety procedures and prepared in case of an actual evacuation, such a statement is false. Nearly every CHS student has participated in a fire drill in the past and does not require constant reminders of the course of action in case of a legitimate emergency.
Clearly, fire drills have become overemphasized and unnecessarily frequent at CHS, and as a result they are not being taken seriously. Additionally, they have interfered far too much with learning in classes. With that in mind, MCPS must request that the fire marshal retract or reduce his mandate, because there is no need to reinforce an understanding of the same procedure over and over again in high school. For the sake of academic learning and preparedness in case of an actual emergency, evacuation drills must become less common.