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The public should know that our schools have earthquake plans, which were developed in partnership with Hazard Management.

Shirley Wahler, Chief Education Officer

Published 21st January 2010, 4:31pm

Education officials met today (Wednesday, 20 January) to review government schools’ emergency procedures, following yesterday’s earthquake. The major disruptions at the John Gray High School (JGHS) were a particular area of focus.

Chief Education Officer Shirley Wahler noted that schools do have established procedures, which were followed.

"The public should know that our schools have earthquake plans, which were developed in partnership with Hazard Management. Our teachers ensured that students were evacuated from the buildings and remained in open areas until they received the all clear from Hazard Management yesterday morning."

Minister of Education, Hon. Rolston Anglin, who was overseas on official business during the incident added: "I was pleased to learn from my colleague, Minister Adam, that at the vast majority of schools these arrangements went smoothly, despite the high levels of anxiety, and that emergency personnel (Police and Fire) also responded quickly to support our school staff."

"There were obviously some things that did not go so well. Our focus now at the Ministry is to ensure we learn from these incidents to make sure we are better prepared in the future."

Acknowledging the difficulties experienced at JGHS, Minister Anglin added:  "Understandably anxieties ran high among parents and many turned up to check on their children. But I understand that staff members were put in a difficult situation with some students refusing to follow directions, leaving campus without permission, and in some cases with encouragement from parents."

"We simply cannot have this happening. Schools have the ultimate responsibility for students when on campus. It may not seem necessary for students to sign out before leaving a school, but it is the only way we can account for each student in an emergency situation, and ensure that we meet our duty of care. What if buildings had collapsed? How would we have known who to look for?"

"Even with the best emergency plans in the world, we need the support and trust from parents so we can all act as calmly as possible when disaster strikes."
Ministry Chief Officer Mary Rodrigues advised that a debriefing with top level Ministry and Education Services staff has already taken place today, and that a list of urgent short-term improvements had been identified. A debriefing has also taken place at John Gray.

Noting that a meeting with the John Gray High School PTA executive had been arranged for Friday, 22 January, she commented: "We share parents’ concern for the safety of their children, and the way forward must involve both their input and cooperation, if we are to be able to protect our students."

Mrs. Wahler advised that school counsellors and educational psychologists, under the leadership of Head of Student Services, Brent Holt, are also making preparations to provide counselling support for students and staff.

She further noted that preliminary structural assessments on all schools were completed yesterday, and minor damage was reported at three schools.

A superficial, hairline crack appeared in Bodden Town Primary School’s library; a crack was spotted over a door in a North Side Primary modular classroom; and an already cracked beam at Leading Edge School cracked further. Public Works Department staff are conducting repairs.

To hear further comments from Education Minister the Hon. Rolston Anglin, tune in to Radio Cayman’s Talk Today programme at 1:00 pm on Thursday, 21 January, and to Rooster on Friday, 22 January at 7:30 am.