Tornado drills hit home for Verona school

Statewide drills test emergency preparedness
Tornado drills hit home for Verona school

Statewide tornado drills Thursday encouraged residents to practice their response to severe weather.

At 1 p.m., a mock tornado watch was issued, followed by a mock tornado warning at 1:45 p.m. with sirens, as well as radio and TV stations, issuing test alerts.

Like other schools statewide, Verona’s Country View Elementary School took part. Those there know the importance of preparing in case of a tornado because they’ve experienced it firsthand.

Many thoughts can turn up during a tornado drill.

“Where are the kids?” asked Verona School District Superintendent Dean Gorrell. “Are we prepared?”

For Gorrell, the drills also bring memories.

“It was very surreal,” he said.

Just days after school let out for summer four years ago, a tornado tore through Country View Elementary overnight, completely destroying four classrooms and damaging other areas of the building.

No one was hurt.

“You thought, ‘What just happened here?'” he said. “Where we’re standing, if we had been standing there that late night or early morning, it would’ve been complete devastation all around us.”

The tornado left devastation, but also a lesson of how important drills are.

“Learning early on is very important,” said Andrew Beckett, assistant public information officer at Wisconsin Emergency Management. “You want to make sure kids know right away if they hear that siren, there is danger and they need to take action.”

Beckett said statewide drills are necessary practice in case of a real emergency.

“When a warning goes off, it’s usually for a very good reason,” he said.

But sirens don’t provide the only warning. Beckett explained sirens are intended to alert people who are outside, so other methods of receiving warnings are vital.

“You may not hear a siren go off, you may not have your cell phone next to you, may not have your TV on,” he said. “So the more sources people have for information and the more they know about, the better chance that they’ll be informed when a warning is issued and there’s danger baring down on their home at that time.”

Beckett said cellphone alerts are helping to get the word out about severe weather in recent years, but text alerts weren’t tested Thursday.

Back at Country View Elementary, the destruction is nowhere to be seen.

“You wouldn’t know it ever happened,” Gorrell said.

Memories of the tornado, however, hang on in framed flags from destroyed classrooms, which serve as permanent reminders during drills to stay prepared.

“Until you have an experience like this and think, ‘Gosh, if that had happened a few hours earlier or during the day, our kids would’ve been populating these schools,’ so it just brings it home,” Gorrell said.

After the tornado four years ago, Gorrell said the district had their emergency protocol checked over, and learned if students had been there during the tornado, those plans would have kept them safe.

A second mock tornado drill is scheduled for 6:45 p.m.