Wisconsin First Responders Review Lessons from MCI Drill

In a coincidence, emergency crews were being briefed as the Sikh temple incident took place


KELLY SMITH / Lake Country Reporter (Hartland, WI) | | Friday, August 10, 2012

City of Delafield - A nearly hourlong detailed briefing Monday described for the Common Council how Lake Country emergency personnel would respond to a mass casualty similar to the Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek or the theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., two weeks ago.

The timing of the briefing was coincidental, according to Mayor Ed McAleer, who said the presentation by Lake Country Fire and Rescue and the Delafield Police Department was scheduled a month ago.

More than 200 police, fire and other emergency responders from 20 Lake Country communities descended upon St. John's Northwestern Military Academy on April 21 as part of a mass casualty drill planned and coordinated by the Police Department and regional Fire Department.

Fire Chief Jack Edwards explained that because of the number of mock casualties, the drill, more closely resembled the theater shooting in Colorado - where 12 people were killed and 58 wounded - than the Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek, where there were 10 casualties, including seven fatalities.

About 65 military academy cadets were "casualties" in the mock incident, which involved two armed "gunmen" interrupting an assembly in the gymnasium on the St. John's campus.

Police Capt. Erik Kehl and Fire Capt. Brad Bowen described the steps their departments took in responding to the initial emergency calls, setting up command centers and dispatching help from other community agencies.

While waiting for police to secure the gymnasium, Lake Country Fire and Rescue began to notify Waukesha and Oconomowoc Memorial Hospitals and the Aurora Medical Center in Summit about the developing incident.

Delafield Police Chief Scott Taubel explained that key administrators with the police and fire departments and hospitals who were involved in the planning of the drill were aware of the details of the drill, but a vast majority of the first responders did not.

Kehl and Bowen said first responders were stunned when they entered the gymnasium and realized the extent of the casualties. "You could see many of them began reacting as if it were the real thing rather than a drill," said Bowen.

"You could see by the looking at their faces how intensely focused they were on what they were doing, even though it was a drill," added McAleer, who observed the exercise.

Kehl said emergency medical responders entered the gym after it was secured by police and began determining which of the causalities required immediate hospital care and which could wait to be transferred.

Bowen explained the challenge of keeping track of the number of helicopters and ambulances that were arriving and leaving the scene. A regionally developed major investigations unit had begun establishing the gymnasium as a crime scene and started collecting evidence.

Meanwhile, the critical incident team was securing other areas of the campus as it conducted a search for the escaped gunman. Because of time constraints, there were many aspects of the 90-minute drill that Kehl and Bowen said they could not present to the council.

For example, 100 cadets who were not injured had to be accounted for and then transferred from the besieged academy campus to the security of Cushing Elementary School.

News media perimeters had to be established and key personnel designated as public information officers. The drill was critiqued by veteran police and fire chiefs and captains of surrounding metropolitan areas who had developed expertise in various phases of mass causality response.

Taubel and Edwards said they were pleased by the overall performances of their departments and the responding surrounding communities.

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