Security drill goes off without a hitch at prepared Jerusalem school

Such is the security situation in Israel that missile attack drills are old hat for the pupils at the Zalman Aran elementary school in Jerusalem. "We practice some type of drill every month," Principal Dalia Fink told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday during the nationwide drill simulating a missile attack. "We've simulated an earthquake, a fire, what to do if a terrorist comes into the school, what to do if he's on the top floor, the ground floor...." Each school sends a teacher to be trained as a security coordinator. At Zalman Aran, that responsibility rotates, so several teachers have been trained, Fink said. Twenty minutes before the drill, kids were playing outside, kicking a ball around, a worried face nowhere to be found. As 10 a.m., the time of the drill, approached, they were called back to class. The sixth-grade class, whose job it was to escort all other classes to the shelter, put on their neon vests and dispersed to the classrooms. "We received training at the beginning of the year and have already done a practice drill," Ido, one of the escorts, told the Post just before the drill, "At the first siren, everyone is supposed to get under their desks. At the second one, everyone is to go down to the shelters while hugging the walls." Ido has received additional training at the local fire station how to react in the event of a fire. "There are first aid kits [downstairs]," he added. His classmate Noa's job was to conduct a sweep of the building floor to make sure no one had been left behind. Despite it being only a drill, Ido understood the potential gravity of the situation. "We're ready for the reality. But if this were real, it wouldn't be so organized," he said seriously. At 10 a.m., sirens started to go off. At first, they were hard to hear, and it was only when the internal school alarm was added to the cacophony that the pupils realized that the drill had started. The other sixth-grade pupils quickly ducked under their desks and their teacher went to stand in the doorway. "It reminds me of the First Gulf War," she remarked to her colleague. There was no talking and, in fact, silence had pretty much descended upon the entire school. When the second siren sounded, the pupils filed out in an orderly fashion. Like some sort of strange dance, they alternately started and stopped on each floor according to a prearranged schedule on the way to the shelter. At 10:06 on this reporter's watch, all the school's 327 kids were down in the three rooms of the basement shelter. They had brought books and games and more or less quietly played or read while attendance was taken by the student escorts and the security coordinator collected the lists. At 10:20, the students proceeded upstairs and continued with their day. There were no incidents throughout the drill and no evidence of panic among the pupils or the teachers. By 10:30, they were all back in class and the day continued as normal. "Everything went well. People cooperated and the escorts knew what to do," Noa concluded after the drill. Fink was proud of her students. "I am very satisfied. They [the pupils] took it seriously. There is always a dilemma about how to prepare the kids for reality [without] putting unnecessary stress on them," she said. "We've hosted kids from Sderot and our kids really identified with them," she added. Fink was less happy with the shelter itself. "It's too small. I would be happier if it had air conditioning and heating, but it was built years ago. One bathroom with a few toilets in the shelter is not enough for 300 kids, either," she said. Zalman Aran is lucky to have a shelter in the building. Some schools in the South do not have shelters at all. Despite the heavy publicity surrounding the nationwide drill, it was really just another day in the lives of pupils at Zalman Aran.