October 20, 2014

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Law enforcement practices responding to multiple casualty shooting

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Police officers head into the main hall at Avon Lake High School on Thursday. The officers are clearing the halls during a simulated school shooting with multiple casualties. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

AVON LAKE – If passersby saw a large police, fire and EMS presence at the high school last week, there was no need to be alarmed – it was only a drill.

The mass casualty drill Thursday at Avon Lake High School, 175 Avon Belden Road, was meant to prepare safety forces for a real event where a shooter, who must be apprehended or subdued, injures multiple people while creating a hectic and chaotic environment.

When such tragedies occur, safety forces must be able to secure the area, communicate effectively and effectively transport victims to area medical facilities.

Extra steps were taken to try to make the scene look real. Mike Smalheer, a technician from the MetroHealth Simulation Center, was there prepping actors.

Smalheer said the simulation center mainly works in hospitals to train nurses and paramedics. Having professionals work with live human beings prepares professionals more than using dummies, he said.

“We prepare the actors by telling them the vital signs they would expect in a real scenario,” Smalheer said. “We preach realism in everything we do, whether it’s in a hospital or out. The more real you can get it, the more buy-in there is with participants.”

Phase one of Thursday’s drill involved an active shooter entering the school.

Police then tracked the shooter as the eerie sound of several gunshots echoed in the hall and the school loudspeaker pinpointed the areas the shooter had last been seen.

Firefighters begin the triage process as students at Avon lake High School are ushered out following a simulated school shooting and mass casualty incident training.

Firefighters begin the triage process as students at Avon lake High School are ushered out following a simulated school shooting and mass casualty incident training.

The school’s drama club assisted with the drill, and students’ screams for help could be heard following the gunshots. In this scenario, the shooter wounded several students before committing suicide in a bathroom.

The second phase of the drill involved police continuing to secure the building, helping students exit to safe areas and allowing EMS to administer care to wounded students.

The final phase involved actually transporting the injured to three local hospitals where training exercises continued with hospital staff.

According to Avon Lake Schools Superintendent Robert Scott, such drills are equally as important for students and educators as they are for police, fire and EMS personnel. This was Avon Lake’s first mass casualty drill involving safety forces, although the school practices similar drills on their own.

“You have to be prepared for the current environment,” Scott said during a phone interview after the drill. “Today, unfortunately, with the things that go on (in schools) around the country, you have to be ready. Drills like this morning’s really help us prepare.”

Scott said Avon Lake Schools follows the ALICE program, which encourages the school to keep communication lines open during a shooting scenario, inform students when it is safe to leave and to fight back against intruders as a last resort. It stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.

ALICE differs from traditional lockdown methods that mainly tell students to duck, cover and wait in classrooms.

“We feel like we have a good protocol in place if something ever were to happen,” he said. “ALICE is all about getting kids away, getting them to safety and being very proactive during the event.”

Alex Davis, 19, a former Avon Lake High School student who has participated in 15 similar drills, played the part of a student who got shot in the shoulder.

“I think taking part in mass casualty drills is a fun thing to do,” Davis said. “Not only is it serious to help prepare safety services, it gets you involved in the process in a fun and active way.”

Avon Lake resident Joni Marra, 53, participated in the event by playing the part of a teacher because she said it was “the right thing to do.”

“This type of drill is top-notch,” Marra said. “When I grew up it just wasn’t part of thinking to have these types of drills. It was more natural disasters rather than mankind coming at you.”

Members of the Avon Lake Fire and Police departments participated in the drill as well as emergency personnel from surrounding departments.

Contact Jon Wysochanski at 329-7123 or jwysochanski@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonWysochanski. 

Video from the high school