North Carolina holds statewide tornado drill

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One by one, students piled into the hallways, crouching into the tornado safe position. (WTVD)

Just as kids were arriving at school Wednesday, Principal Carmen Graf sounded the alarm and announced the start of East Garner Elementary School's tornado drill.

One by one, students piled into the hallways, crouching into the tornado safe position. They followed commands almost seamlessly, as if understanding the importance of the exercise.

Students like Tuu Siu said the drill can be nerve wracking. That's the case for both students and staff.

"I think my biggest concern is keeping 723 students safe," said Graf. "I'm thinking about what we need to do and have in place, and have everyone very well prepared and versed in the procedures."

East Garner Elementary School has participated in the statewide tornado drill since the school opened in 2007.

Kindergarten teacher Juliet Schenk said it's tough to explain the importance of drills without scaring young students.

"I think we have to make sure that we have laid out our very clear expectations. When it comes time, it's time. We have to stop what we are doing and we have to get out there," she explained.

And teachers did just that. Students were organized, quiet, and calm, as they waited for the all clear from Principal Graf.

The exercise was especially calm for fifth graders, who have had years to practice.

"They have let us practice, and told us what to do just in case we aren't in the school," said fifth grader, Uriel Maldonado.

Renee Chestnut agreed.

"Before it happens, teachers tell us what to do when there's severe weather," she said.

Principal Graf said she is happy the student's take the task so seriously.

"They are able to demonstrate and articulate why they need to follow procedures and put safety precautions into place, and I'm really proud of the work they are doing," she said.

Now, both students and teachers are encouraging you to make a plan at home, for your family, too.

"Do it now. You know it's severe weather week. Take that moment, find a space. You know you don't know who is going to be home when it happens, so make sure they are all clear about it and practice it, so it's not new to them if it actually happens, said Schenk.

Nick Petro, the warning coordinator for the National Weather Service in Raleigh agreed.

"When there is a tornado warning issued, seconds count, every second counts. When that warning is issued you want to know where you need to go to protect yourself, to protect your family, so now is the time to prepare," he said.

When a tornado warning is issued, it's important to get to safety immediately. Seek shelter in a sturdy building on the lowest level, away from doors and windows. Take a phone, a NOAA Weather Radio and your emergency kit with you. Stay in place until the warning is over.

Practice makes perfect, and can save lives in a pinch.

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