Local schools prepare for statewide tornado drill

Spring is here and with it comes a higher threat for severe weather and tornadoes. That's why Virginia has declared the first day of spring the Statewide Tornado Drill, which is a chance for students to practice what they would do in severe weather.

The National Weather Service asks everyone to take part in Tuesday's drill, which will start with a tornado drill warning over weather radios at 9:45 a.m.

It's been two years since eight tornadoes touched down in just a few hours - including the deadly EF3 tornado that touched down in Appomattox. 

While major storms like that don't happen often in the Commonwealth, experts say it's important to practice safety plans on a regular basis. 

"Tornadoes are a vulnerability that we have identified for the City of Roanoke," said Marci Stone, the emergency management coordinator for Roanoke Fire EMS. "It can still happen here even though we have mountains. We also have straight line winds that happen very commonly, similar to the derecho we had a couple of years ago. These same preparedness steps can be taken in those types of events."

Experts say it's important to act fast during the drill. The average tornado stays on the ground for less than 10 minutes.

During a tornado, experts recommend moving to a basement if possible, staying under something sturdy, and staying away from windows.

If you live in a mobile home, get out and move to a nearby permanent shelter. 

If you're in your car, look for a safe and sturdy place to get out of your car and seek shelter. 

Experts also recommend having enough emergency supplies to be self-sufficient with no electricity for up to 72 hours. 

"They need to go ahead and practice what they would do if they're at their office, if they're at school," Stone said. "What they would do if their kids are at a day care center, what would they expect those care providers to do in this type of emergency?"

Here's how local school districts say they will be participating in Tuesday's drill:

Appomattox County Schools: 

Because school days were canceled because of weather and SOL scheduling, ACPS will conduct this drill on Thursday. All schools will participate at the same time.


All schools will follow the best practice protocol established by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. This involves going into an interior room/hallway away from windows and exterior doors. The students are then instructed to crouch as low as possible to the floor, facing down and covering their heads with their hands. They are to remain in place until the drill is over.


Parents can practice this at home so they can become more familiar with it.


Bedford County Schools:


School leaders say they anticipate that schools will take part. Drills are not managed from the district level.


Franklin County Schools:


Most, if not all, Franklin County schools will participate. If a school has to choose an alternate date or time for the drill, it has to be complete by Friday.


During the drill, all students and staff will move to designated areas away from windows and exterior doors, assume a crouching position, and cover their face and head with their arms.


Giles County:


Five schools within the district will be conducting their drills on Tuesday. One will be rescheduling the drill to another date because of SOL testing.


Henry County Schools:


Some schools will participate on Tuesday, while others will practice throughout the rest of the week. There is typically a bell sounded and students and staff move to designated safe spaces and into safety positions until the drill is complete.


Lynchburg City Schools:  


Schools can conduct drills on their own schedule. 


Martinsville City Schools:


Schools will participate in the drill. Law enforcement, fire and rescue, and public safety officials will assist with the drill and provide feedback. 


The notification from the National Weather Service in Blacksburg will announce the drill and staff will hear the alarm over their portable radios and announce the drill over the schools' emergency speaker system. Teachers will lead students to designated safe areas. During the drill, teachers can talk with students about weather safety. 


Pittsylvania County Schools:


All county schools have participated in one of the three practice drills over the past two weeks. 


Elementary schools will practice Tuesday, while middle and high schools will practice March 27. Drills will be announced via bus radios. The code word will be "awareness."


Roanoke City Schools:  


Schools are required to hold a tornado drill. Schools decide when to conduct the drill. 


Rockbridge County Schools:


Schools will participate Tuesday.


Salem City Schools:


All schools will participate. Most of the drills will be Tuesday, but due to some conflicts, others will occur later this week.


Wythe County Schools: 


All schools will participate. However, because of cancellations and delays, some middle and high schools will be giving their SOL writing test Tuesday and won't practice the tornado drill until the afternoon. 


Each school safety team, led by the principal, has designed a method to get kids quickly to assigned safety locations in a calm and orderly manner. In addition, each school has a unique way of positioning students at varying locations within their buildings. All schools have the same tornado-ready protocol of making sure students face an interior wall, get down on their knees, and protect their heads with their arms in a crouched position.