|Preparing for the unimaginable: Terrorism drill at Mingus|
|Written by Greg Ruland|
|Friday, 29 July 2011 05:00|
SWAT, paramedics drill for a terrorist attack at Mingus
Shortly before 8:20 a.m. Friday, July 22, a caller reported to Cottonwood Police Department that a hostage situation was under way at Mingus Union High School.
Arriving at the school within minutes, Verde Valley Special Weapons and Tactics teams surrounded the wrestling room, where two terrorists reportedly held more than 30 students and four bus drivers hostage, Cottonwood Fire Marshal Rick Contreras said.
That was the scene for a mass casualty drill involving dozens of student volunteers and multiple local agencies, including Cottonwood police and fire departments, Verde Valley and Clarkdale fire districts, and Verde Valley Ambulance Co.
The drill scenario, the brainchild of Cottonwood Fire Department firefighter Brandon Wacker and Verde Valley Medical Center emergency room nurse Tish Arwine, was intended to test the ability of local agencies to effectively coordinate a response to the unfolding tragedy.
Wacker and Arwine headed up a committee that planned for the event over three months. It was the first time SWAT was included in such a drill, Arwine said.
Shortly before 9 a.m., two hostages with multiple gunshot wounds were carried from the scene on litters hoisted by SWAT team members. Despite the hot morning sun, team members dressed in full battle gear as they would in an actual emergency, wearing helmets, camouflage fatigues, body armor and gas masks.
Weapons loaded with soap-filled shells that exploded like paint balls was one of the few ways SWAT response was different than it would be in an actual hostage situation.
Hostages, who wore tags with messages that described their faux injuries for responders, screamed and writhed on the litters as they were carried from the scene, fake blood dripping from their limbs, where defined bullet holes could be seen.
A mass casualty incident was not yet declared because there were plenty of responders on scene to deal with the victims so far, but that was soon to change, Arwine said.
Around 9:20 a.m., a loud explosion was heard, followed by about 30 students screaming out in agony, sounds realistic enough to provoke actual fear and concern among witnesses at the scene.
“Now things are really going to get crazy,” Wacker said.
SWAT stormed into the wrestling room, weapons firing. One terrorist was killed outright, another riddled with bullets.
“Get down on the floor,” one SWAT commander yelled. “Get down.”
The hostages complied. Within minutes, the scene was secured and emergency medical responders swarmed onto the wrestling mats and started treating patients, directing some for transport and others with less serious injuries to treatment areas under tents set up in the school’s west parking lot.
Alerted to the situation, VVMC’s mass casualty response plan was activated and the emergency room readied to receive dozens of injured patients, Vice President for Professional Services Barbara Dember said.
In a real emergency, Dember, or one of her counterparts in hospital management, would not normally be on scene, but Dember said she wanted to be present Friday to watch how the various agencies performed.
Cottonwood Fire Department Fire Chief Mike Casson and Verde Valley Fire District Operations Chief Jerry Doerksen actually participated in the drill, filling support roles as commanders for various ancillary aspects of the incident.
An after-action review by Cottonwood Fire Department concluded the drill unfolded as planned with few problems, except for a communications snag that was resolved early on.
For a time, SWAT members were unable to hear direction from event commanders, he said.
Also, commanders at the scene needed to monitor multiple radio channels to maintain communication with multiple agencies, causing some confusion early on, Wacker said.