COUNCIL BLUFFS — The students at Franklin and Walnut Grove Elementary Schools know what to do if high water approaches their buildings. They proved it Thursday when they marched out of the school and onto school buses during flood-evacuation drills.
"We did this so we could get out of the school if there's a flood," said Walnut Grove fifth-grader Delaney Gove, 10.
The Council Bluffs school district conducted the drills to ensure that students and employees are prepared to evacuate, if necessary. The swollen Missouri River is being held back by levees in Council Bluffs, but if those levees were to fail, those schools would be at risk of flooding.
"We practiced just in case it would really flood," fifth-grader Nathan Allerton, 10, said after the Walnut Grove exercise, adding: "It went OK."
It went better than OK, according to Jeff Theulen, the emergency management coordinator for Pottawattamie County. Theulen described the practice evacuation as very good.
"The time was good, communications went well, the buses did a good job and the staff was prepared," he said.
Walnut Grove Principal Jerri Larson said this was the first time the school had conducted a drill for flooding.
"It ran better in my mind, but for a first time, it ran as expected — and we accomplished what we wanted," said Larson.
The school coupled the flood drill with the bus evacuation drill that it does twice a year.
While the threat level for significant flooding is diminishing as the Missouri River slowly recedes, each school in potential flood areas has developed an evacuation plan.
Students at Carter Lake Elementary School would be taken to Omaha North High School. Edison Elementary School students would be taken to Hoover Elementary School. Franklin Elementary School students would be taken to First Baptist Church. Longfellow Elementary School students would be moved to a Masonic temple. Rue Elementary School students would go to Kanesville Alternative Learning Center. Walnut Grove Elementary School students would go to Broadway United Methodist Church.
For the upper grades, Wilson Middle School students would go to Kirn Middle School, while Thomas Jefferson High School and Tucker Center students would go to Abraham Lincoln High School.
The Walnut Grove exercise started with the first call at 9:46 a.m. and wrapped up 29 minutes later.
"If we can move the kids in under 30 minutes, we're doing OK," Theulen said.
In those 30 minutes, the school received the flood alert, packed up items such as first-aid kits and emergency supplies, and loaded the children onto seven buses. Teachers armed with student checklists made certain no children were left behind in the school and double-checked that all students had been loaded onto the buses.
"Please lower your voices," one teacher admonished children on one bus, while another suggested to students approaching another bus that they "walk like soldiers."
"Not bad at all," Council Bluffs Police Officer C.J. Hite said as the Walnut Grove students moved onto the buses. "They're absolutely paying attention, and that's a lot for elementary school kids."