Emergency responders, schools plan test of safety procedures

Local emergency responders and officials with Seymour Community Schools will take part in a large-scale school safety training exercise next spring.

It’s not been decided what the scenario will be, but Duane Davis, director of the Jackson County Emergency Management Agency, said it will be based on a “table top” exercise that took place this year.

That event allowed police and school staff to come together to discuss and poke holes in their emergency policies and procedures. Davis said the idea was to strengthen their responses should a gunman gain access to a school.

The previous exercise was important, Davis said, but was held in a low-stress situation and didn’t allow responders to put their plans in action. This spring’s exercise will be much more involved and will use students and teachers to act out the situation.

Davis said the scenario most likely will take place at Seymour High School, as most school shootings across the country take place at high schools.

“It will be a full-scale exercise based on the comments and input we got from those who took part in the previous exercise,” he said. “We will practice moving in equipment, securing the building, moving students and staff to a secure and safe location and physically caring for the wounded.”

Instead of just talking about what they would do, the exercise will give emergency and school personnel the chance to actively respond, he added.

“We will have real objectives, and evaluations will be done based on each department,” Davis said.

The exercise will involve Schneck Medical Center and allow responders and hospital staff to rehearse emergency procedures in transporting and treating victims, Davis said.

A variety of agencies will be invited to participate to make the training exercise as realistic as possible. Davis said Seymour Police, Jackson County EMS, the county coroner, Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, Seymour Fire Department, Indiana State Police and the Indiana Department of Homeland Security all will be asked to take part.

Evaluations of the training exercise will be used to update and revise safety procedures and policies from each agency to make sure they are effective. If something goes wrong or a mistake is made, the exercise is not about singling an agency out or pointing fingers, Davis said.

“We need to identify the

problems and ask ourselves: Is it a training issue or do our policies need to change,” he said.

Training exercises of this nature give responders and agencies a chance to get familiar with each other and with the schools.

“We can look at how to hone our skills and our management of large-scale incidents under lower stress when lives are not actually in danger,” Davis said. “That in turn prepares us for the high-stress situations so that we respond as we have been trained to.”

Parents will be notified of the drill including when and where it will take place and how their children will be involved. Davis said he also plans to involve local and possibly state media.

“We need to be able to manage the media because they can be vital to getting important information out,” he said. “We want the media to respond just as they would to a real situation, so that we can practice how we deal with that.”

Although he hopes responders never have to be involved in such a situation, Davis said, it’s always better to be prepared and know now to respond.

“You don’t plan to fail, you fail to plan; and that’s what can cost lives,” he said.

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.