Vernon disaster drill at Rockville High School results in valuable lessons

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Fri., Aug. 16, 2013
A chaotic-looking scene at the mock drill for police, fire, and emergency workers took place at Rockville High School on Aug. 15. Photos by Steve Smith.
A chaotic-looking scene at the mock drill for police, fire, and emergency workers took place at Rockville High School on Aug. 15. Photos by Steve Smith.

A massive training exercise took place on Aug. 15 at Rockville High School. Police, fire and emergency management personnel from Vernon and surrounding towns took part in a mock incident scenario in which an out of control car veered into the grandstand at the school, as it was full of students during a pep rally.

Volunteers – many of them students earning credit for community service – portrayed victims with varying degrees of injury.

“At 10:04 this morning, Vernon Police received a 911 call reporting a mass casualty with one car driving into the bleachers,” said Detective James Grady, public information officer of the Vernon PD. “Upon the arrival of officers and EMS workers, multiple injuries were assessed at the scene, and a level 2 plan was put in place by the police department, and we requested outside resources.”

Grady said the mock incident included eight critically injured students, and 13 others who were injured to various degrees.

The incident was also staged at the school to test the response of the Vernon School district to an emergency. In the scenario, the female driver of the car who was said to have been disoriented and possibly intoxicated, entered the school after the crash, creating a lock-down situation. Assistant Superintendent Jeff Burt said the school was not evacuated, and was under a soft-lockdown, after the driver was apprehended.

“We urge all parents not to come to the scene,” he said, during the mock press conference.

RHS personnel, including security and administrators, were also very involved during the scene. Vernon School's Director of Pupil Personnel Services Patricia Buell was taking part by accounting for victims, taking names, and noting where they were being taken, as well as making sure the press was not getting too close.

“Get that reporter out of here,” Buell said, multiple times.

After the event was over, a de-briefing took place for all of the personnel, as well as the volunteers.

Vernon Emergency Management Director Michael Purcaro said the event took more than a year to plan, but was well worth it. “Overall, it went very well,” Purcaro said. “There were things that I saw that went very well, initially when the response started, but there were also things that we certainly need to improve upon.”

Purcaro said that in the initial moments of the incident rescuers made crucial decisions correctly, but the plan of action, termed the “unified command,” didn't germinate as quickly as it should have. “It happened,” he said, “but it didn't happen as quickly as we would have liked. That's one of the lessons learned, and we'll be better prepared for the next exercise, or if it happens for real.”

Purcaro said the lessons learned from the event will take place over several weeks or longer, but ultimately the lessons learned will result in augments to training. “The after-action will drive the future training,” he said. “We will identify those areas that we need to improve upon. That's how we gear our exercise. When we identify those needs, we'll put a plan together to train on them.”

While aimed at assessing Vernon's overall preparedness, there were also some specific goals in mind that the exercise was geared toward. “It's always geared toward the fire or police officer who first arrives on the scene,” he said. “Not here. The way it was geared was that the school principal and school resource officer were the first to arrive, so what do they do? That's how it would really be if it was at a school.”

Purcaro said another focus was the effectiveness of the ART Triage system. “The goal was to identify the critically injured and get them to the hospital as quickly as possible,” Purcaro said.

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