First responders throughout Dane County prepared for the unthinkable Aug. 10 during a full-scale emergency exercise at Waunakee Community High School.
The scenario: An active shooter had entered the building.
At the onset, the school campus felt eerie with parking lots empty and Warrior Stadium silent. Slowly, Waunakee Police came on the scene, their radios announcing shots fired and a mock drill, alerting other agencies to the scene.
Before EMS and firefighters could access the building, officers secured sections determining the rooms were cleared of any threats.
“The primary goal is to find the [mock] shooter then establish a medical area,” explained Jeremy Crosby, a Waunakee EMS volunteer. With his professional media background, Crosby was tasked with guiding observers and journalists through the exercise. Observers included a school nurse and those involved with safety at Edgewood College.
After the 1400 Hallway was secured, responders set up a collection point where triage would later be done on the mock victims.
Lt. Joe Peterson of Waunakee Police noted that it was believed the suspect was down. Calls also went out for mutual back-up to bring in more resources.
Waunakee Firefighters entered first and began the transport of victims to a collection point in one classroom closest to an exit on the building’s west side. There Emergency Medical Technicians assessed the mock victims and tagged them according to injury level – some were walking wounded while others more seriously injured.
From there, other firefighters could carry them to ambulances from a number of agencies. In addition to Waunakee EMS, EMS from McFarland, Sun Prairie, Fitch-Rona, DeForest and Lodi districts responded, along with McFarland Fire & Rescue. Once in the ambulances, in some cases, paramedics with advanced life support training could begin to stabilize the mock patients en route to the hospital, clearing air passageways, for example. EMTs are also trained to control bleeding.
“EMS can deal with all of these levels of injuries,” Crosby said.
In such large events, EMS also begin the process of contacting hospitals to ensure they have the capacity for intake, and a tracking process begins with the triage.
During the drill, actors and responders were given instructions for addressing an actual safety concern, Crosby said, by announcing “real world emergency.” At that point, the drill would have been stopped to ensure the safety of anyone who sustained an injury or became dehydrated during the exercise, he said.
Crosby said the event took weeks and weeks of training, and emergency responders train constantly to be prepared for real life scenarios.
In this case, Pre-Emergency Planning, LLC was the exercise design consultant. Paid for through a Dane County Emergency grant funded through Wisconsin Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Pre-Emergency Planning’s exercise involved designing a table-top exercise, and coordinating with all participants, including the Waunakee Community School District, on the functionality.
Melissa Waller, CEO of the planning consulting firm, said between 36 to 40 individuals volunteered as actors in the drill, including the school district’s custodial and teaching staff, with emergency agencies treating about approximately 35 mock victims and protecting others in hiding.
While the exercise requires a large commitment, the advantages are “real-time interaction and demonstration of communications, utilization and testing of seldom used resources and increased public awareness of the emergency preparedness program,” according to media manual prepared by the consulting firm.
The simulation was as realistic as possible, but an actual situation would be more chaotic, with actual shots fired, sirens and often, fire alarms activated either by smoke from the gunshots or the shooter.
More work will likely follow the full-scale exercise as participants check to see that all objectives – communication, coordination of the incident management, stabilization of patient and the successful reunification of the evacuees – have been met. The Salvation Army also participated in the drill.
“It’s the culmination of a progression from the last 18 months,” Lt. Peterson said. “We’re now carrying out a scenario as realistic as possible with simulated victims.”
The ultimate goal is that the school and all of the county’s and village’s agencies have a unified plans to take command of such situations, Peterson added.