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'Casualty event' tests police, fire, hospitals : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
'Casualty event' tests police, fire, hospitals
Large-scale practice allows emergency responders to prepare for the worst

by Tony Scott

6/12/2014

The dozens of fire engines, ambulances, and police vehicles at Oswego East High School last Friday may have looked disconcerting, but it was only a drill to help those agencies - as well as the school district and the local hospitals - prepare for a mass casualty event like a school shooting.

The massive exercise was organized by the Oswego Fire Protection District, and involved the Oswego Police Department, as well as Rush-Copley Medical Center and Presence Mercy Medical Center in Aurora. Police agencies involved included the Kendall County Sheriff's Office, Joliet, Plainfield, and Aurora, as well as individual officers from Plano and Naperville. Fire and EMS personnel involved included those from the Bristol-Kendall Fire Protection District, Plainfield, Aurora Township, Aurora, Little Rock-Fox, Newark, Sandwich, and Hinckley, with Naperville and North Aurora covering Oswego's calls during the drill.

The drill involved a fake mass shooting incident at the high school. The organizations used students, parents and administrators as volunteers to play victims and other roles.

Josh Flanders, assistant fire chief with the Oswego Fire Protection District, said the drill helped all the agencies test out how they all work together.

"We train on our own, the police train on their own, the hospitals train on their own, but this is kind of putting everybody together and seeing how thing integrate between the different groups," he said.

Flanders said the school district helped coordinate volunteers that played "victims" and other roles in the exercise, including students, parents and administrators. Approximately 40 "victims" arrived at the high school at 6 a.m. to be made up, Flanders said.

Flanders said that while Rush-Copley and Mercy participated in the drill, more hospitals likely would be involved in a real incident so as to not overwhelm the one or two hospitals in the area.

"In a real incident like this, there'd be people going to a lot more than two hospitals: we'd be using St. Joe's and the Joliet hospitals, and people going to Delnor and people going to Morris," he said. "They'd be spread all over."

Flanders said the fire department has participated in drills before but "nothing with interaction like this."

"I think that was a big key for us, the interaction," he said. "It's a big school. A normal call where there's a threat, the fire department stages until the police say the scene is secure. But when you get a facility like this, if the police can say this wing is secure and we've got this wing, then the fire and ambulance people can go into that wing of the building."

Captain Jeff Burgner of the Oswego Police Department, who coordinated his agency's role in the exercise, said the drill was a success from their standpoint.

"We definitely feel it was a success, seeing how we operated with the fire department and coordinating getting victims out of the building," he said. "It gave us a good overview on where we're at as it relates to preparedness. In speaking to the chief and the other captain that was there, we felt very good on how things went. Obviously, identified a few small things, we'll go back and look at and see if we can do it a little better next time. But it was a very beneficial event."

Burgner said the department participated in a similar drill in 2008.

"It's amazing to see the progression that we've made with the training, as well as the communications," he said.

Scott Vance, EMS coordinator with Presence Mercy Medical Center, said the hospital's trauma coordinator was at the high school that morning helping the volunteer "victims" and returned to the hospital in time to participate in the exercise.

"Our response role in the event is to quickly reevaluate the patients when they arrive to address potential life threatening injuries," Vance said. "We had requested at least 10 patients from the scene; a mixture of ages and medical acuity to evaluate our hospital's medical surge plan and pediatric capabilities. We received a total of six severely injured patients and were able to handle the exercise load with an internal response by all departments."

John Diederich, Rush-Copley senior vice president of operations and chief operating officer, was the incident commander for the hospital during Friday's drill.

"Part of our responsibility to the community is to be prepared for such a large-scale event in the community," he said. "It's crucial that we work together with local EMS, emergency management agencies, fire, police in all the different counties that we serve, and in the state as well. So it's a big piece to meet that mission to the community."

Diederich said the hospital is required by the Joint Commission organization, which accredits and certifies health care facilities, to participate in two drills annually.

"One must be a mass casualty drill, and one must include and integrate different community agencies, so this met both of those goals," he said.

The hospital's process included a variety of staff, Diederich said.

"We went through the process that we would do internally if that were the case, where the ER leadership would call the senior most administrator in the building - that would have been me on Friday - and then, based on the information I got from the emergency department, we decided they would need additional resources above and beyond what they normally could handle with such a surge," he said.

Diederich said the hospital activated an "incident command and a code triage." He said a code triage means they put a mass page out to the employees that they need "all hands on deck."

Diederich said the drill was a success at the hospital's level.

"From our end it went well," he said. "We work with a structure under the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and within that, the hospital incident command system has a whole organizational structure that we rolled out with different roles."

Hospital staff helped put makeup on the volunteers and got them into character, he said.

"They're really great actors - it was fun to watch them act," he said. "Some of the parents were getting into the acting as well. They showed up at the hospital demanding to see their kids, a few times during the incident I had to ask, now are they really mad or is this part of the drill? So that was a bit of a challenge."




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