It was a dark Thursday. The entire complex was pervaded by the gloomy atmosphere. In the midst of a safety exercise, Jacky had just passed out. The first aid crew hurried to help her as everyone was in a panic. People were attempting to contact various objects while others experienced static. Sadly, none of the attempts were successful. Jacky had vanished. She had expired. Everyone was concerned about the potential causes of her demise. Students were sitting and standing all over the school grounds as they struggled to comprehend what had just occurred. They were huddled together, murmuring, and their faces were etched with astonishment and disbelief. What could have gone wrong?
This was the most disastrous event to be witnessed at our schools. Kavi, Jacky’s best friend, stood aloft, quiet and appeared in no mood to have a conversation with the other students. She had been sitting far away from the lecture halls and next to the maroon gate that was wide open. No one seemed interested in closing it, each member of the school family was mourning the departed student.
"It is a great loss to all of us," I tried whispering to the detached student who had lost her best friend. At first, she did not notice my presence, or rather, she did not recognize it as she stared downward probably trying to bring about the memories they shared together and their unique friendship. “Kavi, I wish there is something I could say to make it better, but honestly, there is none. I am just as shocked as everybody is and I understand your pain. I once lost a friend in almost a similar situation, so I know what you are feeling," The visibly shocked student suddenly stood up and embraced me. I could tell the shock and disbelief she was in from her heartbeat.
The students later assembled in the Roosevelt Hall to listen to the official address by the school principal. After greeting the students, he continued, “We are all very saddened by the loss of a member of this great community. The school administration regrets the events of this morning, and we have invited the police to conduct an examination to determine the cause of death. We ask that before the cause of death is established, all students are restrained from making unnecessary conclusions that may send an alarm to the relatives and close friends of Jacky.” The school principal requested those who had spent the last minutes with the deceased to volunteer to give a statement to the police which would be useful in their investigation.
As police who had arrived took the matter in control, I sat under one of the trees with thoughts racing through my mind. I could not come to terms with how the school had lost a student in the name of testing safety preparedness. I am not opposed to such exercises, but I feel enough sensitization should be conducted before conducting safety drills. It makes no sense to test the preparedness of people before taking them through lessons of how to respond to emergencies.
The following evening I visited the hospital where the students had been taken. I was happy to find they were recovering well but saddened that this experience would follow them throughout their lives. I went straight to Kavi who was now more relaxed and tried to talk to her. She was happy to see me, and she requested I tell her what had happened to my friend who I had mentioned earlier and how much time it had taken to heal. I shared with her my experience and the experiences of people who had lost their friends. As someone with counseling skills, I knew this would be helpful in her recovery process.
It is several years now since the sad incident. Looking back, I keep wondering what a costly failure it was by the school’s administration. The total disregard of health outcomes and emergency response plans is mind-boggling. Jacky had suffered a cardiac arrest due to the sudden terror alarm that had been sounded, only to turn out to be a terror safety drill. I keep wondering what contingency plan had the institution put in place to safeguard against such emergencies. While the end was quite tragic, I learned through this experience of the importance of schools and learning institutions implementing sound health care systems to deal with emergencies. While it is important to be prepared for the case of emergencies, it is important to have enough sensitization before conducting evaluating the school's community using drills. This should be a lesson for all education institutions, especially in the face of increased violence in schools. The safety plans that school implements should be user-friendly and contingencies should be considered. Safety emergency plans should be included in the curriculum at all levels to ensure the students are prepared in case of eventualities. No lives should be lost because of human error.