Kurnell Public School community receive Resilient Australia Award for handling of 2015 tornado

Awards presentation at Parliament House. Back row: SES assistant commissioner Scott Hanckel (left), Cassie Romberg (school chaplain), Claire Sawyer (P&C president), Nicole Lanham (assistant principal), Jo Graham (principal) and Mark Speakman. Front: School captains Brayden Ward and Leah Adams. Picture: supplied
Awards presentation at Parliament House. Back row: SES assistant commissioner Scott Hanckel (left), Cassie Romberg (school chaplain), Claire Sawyer (P&C president), Nicole Lanham (assistant principal), Jo Graham (principal) and Mark Speakman. Front: School captains Brayden Ward and Leah Adams. Picture: supplied

Staff, parents and students have reason to be proud after Kurnell Public School was recognised with a national award for its response to the 2015 tornado disaster.

A “highly commended” award in the schools category of the 2017 Resilient Australia Awards was presented by Attorney-General and Cronulla MP Mark Speakman at a ceremony at State Parliament on Thursday.

Principal Jo Graham receives the award from Mark Speakman. Picture: supplied

Principal Jo Graham receives the award from Mark Speakman. Picture: supplied

Principal Jo Graham told the Leader the award was for “the whole school community”.

Ms Graham said they were not unprepared for the events, which unfolded on the last day of the school year.

“We do emergency drills all the time,” she said.

“It was a little different because we had no electricity and so we couldn’t ring the bell, but everyone knew the drill about lockdown and keeping safe.

“The teachers ensured all the students were together in their classrooms, with doors and windows closed and blinds lowered where necessary.

A resident cleans up after the torndado. Picture: Kirk Gilmour

A resident cleans up after the torndado. Picture: Kirk Gilmour

“Parts of buildings and trees were flying across the playground, past our windows.

“We were lucky we have nice strong buildings.

“We got in touch with parents almost immediately through our Facebook page to let them know the children were safe.”

Ms Graham said, when the eye of the tornado arrived, they all moved to the school hall where emergency services officers were waiting.

They were then evacuated to Cronulla High School.

Ms Graham said, in the following days, the school chaplain Cassie Romberg and Alex Tanfield from the Red Cross ran programs to support the children and help them deal with the disaster.

“The school was a hub for the whole community,” she said.

“We have a strong and trusted relationship with the community, and a lot of communication came from the school.

”We worked with community organisations, meeting every month for a year.”

Ms Graham said the school’s emergency management plan was reviewed and updated.

The school’s Facebook page was included in the updated plan.

The Resilient Australia Awards awards program, which was launched in 2000, recognises and promotes initiatives that strengthen community disaster resilience.

One of the aims is to “showcase work that is often unseen, motivating others to think about how they can be better prepared and more disaster resilient.”

The citation for Kurnell Public School said, “During the response and recovery that followed the tornado, [the school] performed an invaluable central communications role – providing a trusted source of information for school children and their parents as well as the wider community.

”The school liaised with emergency services and community organisations to provide emotional and physical assistance to the people of Kurnell during the recovery – with particular attention to the wellbeing of children following the disaster.

“A key output saw parents and staff working together to review and update the school’s emergency management plan.”