Growing up in Newfoundland, my schools practiced fire drills several times per year. I was one of the kids who always looked forward to fire drills because it meant that we would get a 15+ minute break from class! So, I find it strange that I’ve been working at my two schools here in Japan for ten months now and I have yet to experience a fire drill at either one of them.
That being said, I did experience my first ever earthquake and tsunami drill yesterday!
My JHS is located on the coast of the Sea of Japan. Although most of the tsunamis in the world occur in the Pacific Ocean, there have been several major tsunamis in the Sea of Japan, including one that occurred as recently as 1983. Tsunamis are taken very seriously, especially here. Fortunately, my school is already up pretty high above sea level – it would take a catastrophic tsunami to reach it – but my school isn’t taking any chances.
Sixth period class was cut yesterday so that we could spend the entire 50 minutes on the drill. Shortly after the bell rang, a teacher came on over the PA system and said, “An earthquake is happening.” I’m assuming the students hid under their desks then, like they’re taught to do (although I was sitting in the teachers’ room, so I didn’t get to see this part). Approximately 90 seconds later, the teacher came back on the PA and announced that the earthquake was over, but that there was a large tsunami forecast to hit our shores in 13 minutes.
A head teacher grabbed a large red flag and raced outside to be the leader. All the students filed out of the school using multiple exits, lined up two-by-two by class and dead silent. We followed the lead teacher as we walked around the school to the edge of the forest and then, to my surprise, we started climbing through it! It was hard work – it was all uphill and the path was only wide enough for single file at some points. The humid, 27°C weather wasn’t helping!
We climbed for 15 minutes until we came to a graveyard (of all places). The students lined up in the parking lot by class and sat down. Our Vice Principal then stood at the front with his megaphone and talked about how safe we were up here – we had climbed another 60 m above our already high-elevation school, which means that it would pretty much take a megatsunami to reach us. The Vice Principal didn’t talk long and, before we knew it, we were filing two-by-two back down through the forest.
I’m really glad that I got to go on the tsunami drill with the other teachers and students. It’s good to know that my school takes the dangers of tsunami seriously, not only for my peace of mind, but for my family’s, as well! (Although having the drill in May when it wasn’t so hot would have been nice – I spent the rest of the afternoon melting in a puddle at my desk! Japanese summer, I’m not ready for you!)