Sunday, June 25, 2017

Tornado's also Affect Schools

On Sunday, June 11th, reports of bad weather coming Bayard’s way began to filter through tools of mass media. With a school board meeting scheduled for Monday the 12th, School Board President Kim Kildow and Superintendent Travis Miller talked about a backup plan for the meeting; just in case.

In the words of Superintendent Miller, “Cut off time for cancelling the meeting was Monday at 4pm.; at that time radar showed a storm coming from the Fort Collins area. Beings all board members said they could attend a meeting on the following Thursday, we decided to reset it for that date, and all members were texted of the change.”

However, shortly before 7 p.m. Monday night, under a tornado warning, sirens blaring, and his family in the basement, Superintendent Miller wondered if all the board members received the cancellation text, and maybe someone was at the school waiting for the cancelled meeting to start.

He drove to the school watching swirling clouds and sensing the not-so-normal atmospheric conditions; the schools parking lot was empty. He returned to the safety of his underground cove and like many other people weathered the storm cuddled under the basement steps with his family. 

As we talked he expressed thanks for help from both inside and outside Bayard’s city limits. “On Tuesday we received a call from the Bayard Fire Department offering to remove fallen trees from our yard, part of one that fell on our garage, and I noticed the Gering fire Department removing fallen trees in our neighborhood. 

“It made me think of a safety project we started at the high school four years ago. It’s called Community Emergency Response Team; we call it Teen CERT. It’s the only one in Nebraska.

“Student’s put emergency kits in each classroom, and each kit contains what’s needed in emergencies. Things like water, snacks, flashlights, ropes, first aid kit, fluorescent vests, a walkie-talkie, etc. We used walkie-talkies instead of cell phones because cell phone batteries go dead.

Also, the walkie-talkies are programmed directly to the police and fire departments.

“Anyway, for some reason, I’d taken one of the walkie-talkies home on Monday, and after the tornado we heard over that walkie-talkie that the Villa needed the school to open up so they could bring residents, as part of the Villa’s roof had blown off.

“I left to open the school, and by the time I arrived 13 other people were arriving to help. We got a call the Villa needed a school bus to bring a dozen residents and staff to the school; they got the bus.

“We used the fluorescent vests from the buckets for the help to wear, and we had flashlights if we lost power. It’s funny how things work out.

“We put the residents in the library. Each resident had a binder with their meds and other instructions. Volunteers brought cots and mattresses and set them up. Everything went smoothly even though none of us had any training for this sort of thing.

“The residents were at the school until 1:30 a.m. and then transferred elsewhere.”

I sat like a capital L in my chair, “Well, don’t stop now this is interesting.”

With tired eyes Superintendent Miller smiled. “At 7 a.m. the next morning school and city staff met at the fire hall. The crises team had staff available at the school for anyone who needed it, and the City asked the school to activate Teen CERT.

“Fourteen students showed up to help, which is amazing because I figured students would be helping at home.”

Mrs. Heather Oliverius joined our conversation. “We broke the students into teams and they spent all morning going door-to-door to see if anyone needed help. One student had a step counter and said she had 12,000 steps by noon.

“After lunch the Teen CERT team went to the golf course and spent the afternoon helping clean up. Regional Emergency Manager Ron Liel, from Sidney, remarked how well the kids worked and he didn’t know who all to thank. ‘The trees were mysteriously removed.’”

Superintendent Miller rejoined the discussion. “Everything went well. We had phones, people, and relationships with city officials. Much of the trust developed through fire prevention meetings, and other face-to-face gatherings.

“The results of the Teen CERT effort are self-evident.

“I’m humbled that the police department and Villa felt comfortable trusting the school. Everybody involved helped.”

However, Superintendent Miller is not satisfied; after he read last summer’s Hazard Mitigation Plan it confirmed to him that what Bayard needs and what Bayard has is not one in the same. For starters, to be fully accessible to the community during emergencies the school needs back-up generators.

In addition, Bayard needs a tornado shelter facility, (The night of the tornado Minatare had 150 people in their town’s shelter built with FEMA funds.)

If Bayard is to be prepared for future needs the work not completed is a necessity.

We had this interview at the school before power was fully restored; thus, no lights. Nevertheless, afterward the interview it was bathroom time. A flashlight sat on the edge of a counter to aid in that purpose. (You fill in the blanks.)

The flashlight sat in stoic silence; a reminder that no matter who we think we are as a society we’re still human, and sometimes we’re served a dose of humility.

In many ways the days following Bayard’s tornado has given our community a dose of humility. In many ways it’s been a long time coming.     

Thus, our community humbly thanks our sister communities, from the deepest depths of our hearts.

God bless.


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