When Lawndale school officials expanded the elementary system's disaster preparedness programs 18 months ago, a big question was where to store emergency supplies.
"The usual places are closets, supply rooms or wherever else there's space," said administrator Shirley Giltzow. "But what if the Big One that everyone's predicting comes along and the supplies are buried under rubble?"
The solution was a novel one: Buy a batch of ship cargo containers and place one at each of the district's seven campuses. An eighth storage unit was put at the district's headquarters.
Giltzow said the containers, which are 8 feet tall, 8 feet wide and 20 feet long, cost $1,450 each. The district spent an additional $5,000 to stock them with emergency supplies--from canned goods, powdered milk and water to blankets, first-aid kits, screwdrivers and flashlights with long-lasting batteries.
The district bought the containers during the summer and, by luck, had everything in place a week before the Oct. 1 earthquake.
Giltzow said the supplies would last three or four days if it became necessary to house the district's 4,200 students at the schools after an earthquake or other disaster.
The 6.1 temblor that rumbled through the area Oct. 1 was not severe enough to require use of the new storage system. But, Giltzow said, it was comforting to know that everything was in place, just in case.
"We think the cargo containers are a neat idea," she said. "It's economical, everything is in one secure location and we don't have to use scarce space in the buildings."
Heavy-duty padlocks and the thick metal hide of the containers make it virtually impossible for vandals or thieves to break in, she said.
The Lawndale school district, like others, stages periodic disaster drills. In the earthquake scenario, the children take shelter under their desks until the shaking stops, then are quickly evacuated to open spaces.
Giltzow said the district picked up a lot of useful ideas and advice from other South Bay school systems that are developing disaster preparedness plans required under state law. But she believes the cargo container idea popped up in staff discussions in Lawndale, though no one recalls who first suggested it.
A survey of other districts indicated that the container-storage plan is not used elsewhere in the South Bay, but several administrators said they were intrigued by the Lawndale approach.
"We'll have to look into that," said Robert Church, business manager for the Centinela Valley Union High School District.