5 Pasco schools closed because of power outages

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldDecember 18, 2012 

Monday's early morning wind storm may have let some east Pasco elementary students enjoy a day off, but the day was anything but relaxing for Pasco School District administrators and staff.

High winds affected schools and districts throughout the Mid-Columbia, but they did more than their fair share in Pasco, knocking out power to the district's administration building and five elementary schools, causing classes to be canceled.

Spokeswoman Leslee Caul said the outages required the district to move quickly and use methods such as social media and other emergency systems to communicate with parents and students.

"Even with the constraints, we got out the information as quickly as possible," she said.

Caul said the district was informed of the power outages just after 5 a.m., resulting in Assistant Superintendent John Morgan and Randy Nunamaker, director of support services, to visit each school and assess problems. Their assessment led to the district canceling morning kindergarten classes and putting all of the district's schools on a two-hour delay.

However, power outages at five schools -- Rowena Chess, Mark Twain, Longfellow, Virgie Robinson and Whittier elementary schools -- were unresolved by 8 a.m. Caul said officials with Franklin PUD could not guarantee when the power would return, prompting Superintendent Saundra Hill to cancel classes at those schools for the day. School staff still were called into work but are eligible to take an emergency leave day, Caul said.

But district administrators were trying to coordinate efforts without the use of their own offices at the Booth Building in downtown Pasco. Caul said a temporary command center was set up at Pasco High School, but the power outage in the administration building took down the district's website and made it difficult to make calls regarding the closures and delays.

That's where other alternative communication systems came in handy. District officials posted updates on the district's Facebook page. Updates also went out through the state's Flash Alert system and the district's own messenger service, which emails parents who've signed up to receive them.

Pasco wasn't the only district making sure to communicate with families as they assessed conditions from the wind storm. The Kiona-Benton City School District sent out updates through Flash Alert, notifying parents that school was in session but buses would be late and no transportation would be provided to Tri-Tech Skills Center because of high winds.

The Richland School District posted updates to its Facebook page, detailing how Marcus Whitman and Tapteal elementary schools, along with Carmichael Middle School and Richland High School didn't have power early in the morning but it was restored by 8:30 and classes started as usual.

"It went pretty well, considering everything," Richland spokesman Steve Aagaard told the Herald.

The Kennewick School District came away unscathed from the wind storm. No schools or district facilities lost power, and there were no initial reports of damage to school grounds, said Kennewick spokeswoman Lorraine Cooper.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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