HCPS defends against natural disasters

Jessica Wen, Co-Editor in Chief

With the change of midterms, attendance standards, and the abundance of new teachers, this year began by welcoming new changes. However, in addition to the new changes, our school has also gained new experiences.
On Sept. 14, Hurricane Florence hit the East Coast. Originally a Category 2 hurricane that climbed its way up to Category 5, Hurricane Florence devastated North Carolina, leaving many buildings and landscape washed out.
Though our county was barely affected, the county central office took very careful precautions to protect its students.
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, Henrico County Public Schools announced that they would be closed on Friday, Sept. 14. The county tweeted, posted on their website, and called families with the news three days before landfall, demonstrating the county’s prioritization of its students’ safety. In making this decision, the Henrico Office of Emergency Management took in account the expectation of three to five inches of rain, 25 miles per hour wind gusts, downed power lines, and local flooding.
The anticipation built up in our students. Many believed that everyone was going to lose power. Some believed that it was just going to be a lot of rain. Others believed Florence wouldn’t even touch us.
On that Friday, however, only some predicted the outcome. Hurricane Florence remained in the South and did not have a major effect on our state. We received minimal rain, only a few wind gusts, and barely any power outages or floods.
However, what the county did not expect was what occurred on the following Monday, Sept. 17. Towards the end of the school day, Henrico released an announcement about potential severe weather conditions. What started as a simple cancellation of after-school activities, became a two-and-a-half-hour extended school day.
At 3:23 p.m., northwest Henrico County was included in a severe tornado warning. All schools that hadn’t yet released their students delayed dismissal to 4:15. Even some middle school buses turned around and brought the students back to school. However, when the warning extended to 4:30, Henrico made an announcement that they were going to hold the students until then. This later became 4:45, then 5:15, then eventually 6:15.
During the warning, our students were tracking the tornadoes on their phones and computers, watching the news using the classroom projectors, playing games, doing schoolwork, and ultimately trying to stay safe.
“In the midst of the tornado and lightning storm, we read poetry and went over the safety rules in the case of an emergency,” senior Devan Patel said.
Tornadoes touched down near Glen Allen, Freeman, and Tucker High School.
The administrators, school resource officer, and teachers prioritized the safety of their students and did everything they could to maintain a calm environment by keeping them in their classrooms, doing periodic classroom checks, and updating them every 15 minutes.
About two-and-a-half hours after the normal dismissal time, students were finally able to go home.
Though being stuck in the classroom is not what many expected to do on a Monday night, the school and the county learned a lot through this incident, and our students experienced something new. It was an eventful and learning experience.
A couple of weeks later, on Oct. 11, yet another hurricane hit. Hurricane Michael unexpectedly showered Henrico with pelting rain and high speed winds. Our students found out that high schools planned to dismiss at 1 p.m. while they were in first block. Elementary and middle schools still dismissed at their normal time.
The next day, HCPS decided to close all schools due to many power outages and road destruction.
These first few months of school were nothing like previous years. With school closings typically associated with snow days in the winter, students, teachers, and other faculty members were forced to make many alterations to their schedules.