Ky. First Responders Learn Lessons in Active Shooter Drill
The Daily Independent, Ashland, Ky.
Aug. 09—A large-scale drill to practice response to armed intruders in school revealed some communications problems in an otherwise well-executed exercise, an emergency official said.
Emergency responders from several agencies either were unable or failed to use the correct frequency for transmissions that was intended to provide a common channel for communication among the agencies.
Rather than being cause for alarm, however, that and some other glitches provide emergency planners and agencies the insight they need to respond more effectively in crises, according to Boyd County Emergency Management director Tim England.
"It tests our process and one of the biggest things we find is where there are gaps and where we need more training," England said.
Because it was a drill, no one was hurt. However, had it been a real-life emergency, with drawn weapons, live ammunition and real assailants, consequences could have been serious or fatal.
The exercise brought three police agencies, four fire departments, several medical emergency teams and school officials to Boyd County High School two weeks ago, and what they learned they will be talking about for months to come, England said.
Agency heads will discuss weaknesses and gaps, determine who needs to come up with remedies, whether training, equipment or other, and how to pay for it, he said.
Other than the fact it was simulated, none of the participants knew what they'd be encountering at the schools, which included multiple shooters and bombs, a slew of injuries and several fatalities.
The exercise required everyone involved to make quick decisions based on their training and to a point, it worked.
Newer procedures that had not been extensively tested in the field call for four-person teams made up of two law enforcement officers and two medical people to go in to care for victims as soon as other police have cleared safe areas.
That's a new concept for area emergency workers and one of the issues it spotlighted is that firefighters and EMTs don't have bullet-proof vests, England said.
Changing that is an enormously expensive proposition and one the agencies will have to address at some point, he said.
The communications issue arose because multiple agencies use multiple radio frequencies and not all of them work in every part of the county. In an emergency involving multiple agencies emergency managers have a command channel that top personnel in each agency should monitor, and that didn't happen, England said.
So when firefighters entered the building, they had not heard the transmission that police had found another simulated bomb in an area they thought was clear. "That could have been avoided if there had been one command channel," he said.
Some other glitches included emergency workers carrying in their larger wheeled carts rather than the stripped-down emergency litters they should have had, and medical workers setting up a triage station in an area vulnerable to gunfire from the building.
England attributes those missteps to the heat of the moment and says more training is the remedy. "This is all stuff we know but we skipped steps."
"This is not about pointing fingers. Everybody who was there realized what they need to do different. We handled the situation well but procedurally there are things we must and need to do.
"Considering it was the first time we'd used this protocol, it worked well and we had good coordination."
Exercises also build on the all-important trust among emergency workers regardless of their agency. "You have to have that trust even if it is an exercise, that they'll have your back when the shooter comes out."
Boyd County school officials have provided emergency agencies access to school buildings, including pass cards and keys, and is looking into giving emergency dispatchers access to video feeds from school security cameras, Superintendent Bill Boblett said. Those steps will help with response time and effectiveness, he said.
Besides that, faculty and staff who monitored the exercise got a clearer picture of what responders do, he said.
Emergency planners intend to mount large-scale drills about once a year, including in Ashland and Fairview schools, England said.