By David Kligman
OROVILLE — They may be young, but the students at Ophir Elementary School have more practice than even most grownups when it comes to responding to life-or-death emergencies.
In fact, evacuations have become a reality for many of the school’s students and their families.
Since the beginning of the year, a majority of the children’s families have temporarily fled their homes during a number of emergencies, including the California Department of Water Resources’ Oroville Dam auxiliary spillway emergency in February and two recent wildfires. The school was closed for 10 days during the near collapse of the spillway.
On Thursday (Sept. 28), PG&E led the school’s fourth and fifth graders — nearly 150 in all — in an assembly of emergency preparedness and safety tips. It was an event that capped off National Preparedness Month, an effort by FEMA and other government agencies to encourage residents to plan for disasters.
“It’s fitting to be here because of all they’ve gone through,” said Randy Ernenwein, a Chico-based PG&E employee who volunteered his time to assist with the assembly.
First, PG&E retiree Clint Paxton awed the children with a demonstration of electricity hazards. He used an electric demo board with miniature cars and people to show what can happen if your kite flies into an electrical line.
He warned them to always look up and be mindful of power lines. He told them if a power line ever falls on their car, they should stay in the car and call 911. The rubber tires of the car protects them, he explained, but not if they step on the ground.
Next, Cal Fire Capt. Joe Chavez told the children they should always have several options for escaping a house fire. And he spoke of having an emergency plan in place.
That provided a perfect segue for a very important PG&E giveaway. Each child received an emergency backpack with enough supplies for three days for one person. The red bags were filled with a first aid kit, water packets, food rations and a glow stick, among other things.
The children lined up and received their kits. A letter to their parents was sent home with them to explain what they learned. Their parents also received a form to fill out an emergency family plan and an emergency checklist.
Principal Teresa Lightle said preparedness tips keeps children calm in the event of an emergency. She said that was clear after the Oroville Dam spillway emergency.
“I underestimated how much it affected the children,” she said. “The parents who didn’t freak out, the kids didn’t freak out. The No. 1 thing is that we want everyone here to feel safe.”
Hopefully the children here never have to go through another evacuation. But if they do, 10-year-old Aislin Robinson said the emergency supply backpacks will make their escape much easier.
“It will be helpful because then we won’t have to worry about grabbing food, blankets, water,” said the fifth grader who fled with her family to her grandparents’ house during the Oroville emergency. “It helps us make sure we get what we need.”
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.