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Training To Be Ready – Hoping It Never Happens

By Staff | Apr 27, 2010

No one really knew what prompted it, but shortly before 9 a.m. Friday morning, gunshots reverberated through the cafeteria at Iowa Lakes Community College in Emmetsburg, followed by screams and the moans of the injured. The first authorities on the scene found a scene of chaos – chairs overturned, wounded students and total shock over the horror that had played out.

The scene was real enough – but it wasn’t real – it was a carefully staged drill, coordinated by Palo Alto County Emergency Management Director Mark Hunefeld, in cooperation with officials of Iowa Lakes Community College, as well as Palo Alto County Health Systems, the Emmetsburg Police Department,  Palo Alto County Sheriff’s Office and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

Under the scenario acted out on Friday, a lone female entered the cafeteria at the college, produced a weapon and began firing. A total of nine individuals were wounded in the simulated shooting, with the shooter and two other individuals being pronounced dead at the scene from their wounds.  The test of responders was multi-faceted, with law enforcement personnel being tested on their procedures for securing the scene, bringing the situation under control, identifying those responsible and aiding the injured until medical assistance could arrive.

College personnel were tested on their procedures for responding to such a situation, notifications, assisting responding agencies with information about the facility and assisting where possible once the situation was secured.

Emergency Medical Personnel were tested in their skills of initial mass casualty triage of the injured, which is the process of assessing the severity of injury and determining treatment needed, as well as actually providing the initial treatment at the scene and transporting the “injured” to the hospital for further treatment and hospital personnel were tested on their ability to treat and care for multiple victims of trauma at the same time.

An unexpected part of Friday’s occurred when the Emmetsburg Ambulance Service was called to a medical emergency at a residence in the community during the drill, and an ambulance call in one of the outlying communities in the county brought legitimate patients into the hospital Emergency room at the same time that the drill was in progress.

Students from the Iowa Lakes Community College Criminal Justice program portrayed the victims for the drill, giving them a unique insight into the procedures that would be implemented during an actual mass casualty event.

Planning for the drill began earlier this year, and was preceded with a table-top drill two weeks prior to Friday’s drill.

“I felt that the exercise was a tremendous learning exercise and that such training should continue in the future,” said Emmetsburg Police Chief Eric Hansen.  “Although none of the agencies involved in this exercise wish to ever be involved in a real incident of this type.”

Tom Brotherton, Dean of the Emmetsburg Campus of Iowa Lakes, noted the rapid response of Police and Emergency Services and that the exercise allowed for a live test of communications, which functioned very well.

“We would especially like to thank the students in the Criminal Justice program from the Estherville campus for their participation and acting in the event,” said Brotherton. “They made it much more valuable and realistic.”

Following the event, evaluations were held by all of the participating agencies and entities, with the goal of identifying areas needing improvement, as well as refining and reinforcing the need to be prepared for the worst, while hoping that the skills learned will never have to be used.