These are difficult times, so difficult many of us are often tempted to shut off the news and turn away from manmade and natural disasters.

But some professionals are unable to do so, and for the safety of their communities, they face such emergencies head on, training constantly for them.

Their dedication was evident during Friday’s emergency preparedness full-scale exercise at Waunakee Community High School, when departments from a number of Dane County fire, EMS and Police, along with Dane County Emergency Management joined the school district for an active shooter simulation. The morning-long event included several dozen actors comprising school staff, as well.

Dane County Emergency Management had made a grant available funded through Wisconsin Emergency Management and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and it allowed for a contract with Pre-Emergency Planning, LLC, of Lodi, who helped plan the exercise.

The police, EMS, fire department and school district all have plans in place for such full-scale disasters, and the simulation allowed them to coordinate together and learn from the results.

Often, in large-scale emergency events such as school shootings or, closer to home, the gas explosion in Sun Prairie, we reflect on the tragic details afterwards such as the lives lost or the destruction of property.

But a full-scale exercise such as Friday’s sheds a light on a much larger picture. Emergency responders are often not battling blazes, rushing patients to the hospital, or responding to burglaries. They’re training both physically and strategically for events such as this.

In last week’s simulation, they carried out an efficient process: Police secured classrooms hallway by hallway before allowing firefighters into the building. Once inside, the firefighters moved mock victims to a collection point where the EMS began triage. Then the victims were moved to ambulances.

In the event of a real shooting, hospitals would be contacted to learn of the capacity for treating specific trauma injuries. The plan also called for establishing a reunification point for the mock victims and ensuring they received counseling.

Tasks I did not witness included disseminating information to the media and communicating with parents, but the list of objectives within the exercise provided to the media indicated plans are in place for those as well.

During the recent Sun Prairie explosion, many of these same tasks requiring the same coordination were also carried out. I remembered Waunakee Fire Chief Dave Kopp remarking about the seamless evacuation of nursing home patients from that area to Waunakee Manor then and how impressed he was.

Controlling the world around us is impossible. Wildfires happen. Gas lines explode. Unhinged people plan massively violent attacks.

But we can control our responses to such disasters, and in Waunakee, we should appreciate the school district and emergency services providers – not only in our community but in others, as well – for their response planning. Their preparation for the unthinkable never ends.

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