In response to the increasingly tumultuous climate scenario, schools all over the Asia Pacific region are making efforts to create procedures and mechanisms to best prepare them for when natural disasters occur. Last month, I traveled to the Philippines to attend the Experts’ Meeting on Climate Change Education for Sustainable Development in Asia-Pacific hosted by UNESCO and SEAMEO INNOTECH. During this time, I had the privilege of going to observe an elementary school in Manila where I witnessed something incredible.
Commonwealth Elementary School, located in the Quezon City district of Metro Manila, has a student population of over 9,000. Yes, you heard right: nine thousand students in one school. Perhaps this number might not astound you…but to put this into perspective, 9,000 is more than the total student population for most of the Pacific Island countries and territories that I work with!
What makes Commonwealth Elementary School truly special, however, isn’t the size of the student body (which, in Manila, is not uncommon). Rather, this school is nationally recognized for having the best emergency/evacuation plan in the Philippines. The following are photos from the a live demonstration of the evacuation drill:
Throughout all of the activity and frenzy of this drill, it is easy to lose sight of the objective at hand: to successfully evacuate a school of over 9,000 students in an orderly and timely manner. From what I had witnessed, I was already impressed by how seemingly organized and coordinated the process was. Every individual – from the youngest students to the teachers – seemed to know their role and where they needed to be. But what really blew me away was how quickly all of this happened. From the start of the drill to when the last person left the school grounds took just over 4 minutes! Thinking back to my elementary school days in the US, a typical fire drill would take twice as long to evacuate a school with 1/10 as many students.
Sufficed to say, one day, if disaster strikes, it is likely that such an evacuation will not be orderly and calm. However, it is the hope of Principal Modelo and the rest of his staff that when panic sets in, instinct will take over – an instinct that has been formed through careful safety planning and extensive safety drills.