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County emergency groups practice school shooting response

News editor

“Hillsboro ambulance, Hillsboro rescue, Hillsboro fire, we need you to stage at the Lutheran church at North Lincoln and Grand for reports of shots fired at Hillsboro High School.”

That call from the Marion County dispatcher Saturday morning set in motion a grim simulation of two gunmen roaming the halls of the schools, killing one person and seriously wounding seven others.

“Law enforcement has done these in every school in the county,” Sheriff Robert Craft said. “It gives us a better idea of the layout of the schools and what they might encounter.”

Saturday’s exercise dwarfed those simulations in the scope and number of those involved. Emergency medical services, fire departments, Marion County Health Department, St. Luke Hospital, and Hillsboro Community Hospital were engaged in the three-part simulation. Altogether, 81 emergency responders took part in the exercise, county emergency management director Randy Frank said.

Hillsboro High School was the locus of activity. Once the Hillsboro scenario was completed, Hillsboro High became Peabody High School, and after that, Marion High School. Each repeat engaged different groups of responders.

“That way we don’t have three schools involved, and we’re not moving all our responders from place to place,” Frank said. “It was the best way to do it.”

What added to the reality of the exercise was the seriousness each participant brought to it, Frank said.

“As far as the hospitals, public health, fire, EMS, and police, they became very actively involved and saw the urgency to do certain things if it had been a real event, Frank said.

Craft said the intensity was critical for real-life performance.

“There needs to be intensity,” he said. “You will perform the way you train.”

Hospitals found dealing a large influx of patients all at once was revealing.

“We had eight patients come in in a matter of minutes,” St. Luke Hospital CEO Jeremy Ensey said. “We have five total beds in the ER. We were challenged as to where to put these patients. You need to know where they’re located, what room they’re in, the lab needs to know, X-ray needs to know. With just a name, they’re not going to know where to go.”

Hillsboro Community Hospital’s risk management coordinator Ken Johnson said their electronic registration system wasn’t set up to handle patients who came in with no identification.

“We can do our patient tracking system a little different,” Johnson said. “Not being able to identify the patients because all they had was a tag number was a problem. When you have four John Does and three Jane Does it made it tougher to get into our electronic records.”

Johnson said the staff has already devised a solution for the problem.

To heighten the reality of the exercise, Johnson said most HCC staff weren’t told about the scenario before it started.

“Nobody here knew it was going to happen,” Johnson said. “We didn’t tell them how many were coming, what was coming. When a real one happens, you won’t have any prior knowledge, so we wanted to see what would happen during the drill.”

Hillsboro Chief of Police Dan Kinning said it’s difficult to do advance preparation for this kind of exercise.

“We don’t know who’s on duty, who’s going to be available, we don’t know exactly where we’re going to make entry,” Kinning said. “There are so many different scenarios that can occur.”

Kinning praised the conduct of the exercise.

“I think this scenario was probably the best we’ve ever had,” Kinning said. “The good thing about this was we found a couple of things we could improve on, a couple of things we could do.”

Many who participated said it was a good learning experience that will lead to improvements in emergency response systems.

HCC nursing director Stan Conover said the public should take something away from the exercise as well.

“The main things we want everyone in Marion County to know is that in the event of a catastrophe, if one did happen, we can reiterate to the community that we can take care of them here,” Conover said.

Last modified Oct. 16, 2014

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