Drill enhances safety relationship with other agencies

Drill enhances safety relationship with other agencies

It’s a Monday morning and something alarming has happened at the high school. Responders to an emergency call find a number of physically ill students lying in a hallway. As the nightmare scenario plays out, the building is evacuated and a situation assessment determines that the school community has been exposed to a biological agent in a deliberate criminal act. Ultimately, three students and a staff member will succumb to the deadly exposure.

No, this isn’t a movie trailer or, for that matter, breaking news on CNN. The incident described above “happened” in Gwinnett County, part of a multi-agency training drill to test communication and cooperation in the event of a bio-hazard emergency.

A firefighter assists an "ill" student.
Gwinnett School Police, Gwinnett County Police, city police from Suwanee and Duluth, and the Gwinnett County Fire Department came together for the April 17 drill at fictional Suwanee High (actually GCPS’ Suwanee Center). Students and staff from Grayson High participated in the drill, giving representatives from the school system, law enforcement, public safety, and emergency agencies an opportunity to test plans and processes. Local media outlets also were on hand to film the drill and attend mock press conferences, just as they would in a real emergency. During the drill, information was relayed to system leaders, reporters were briefed, and public information officers from multiple agencies coordinated communication.

“The relationships between the school system and personnel in police, fire, and emergency agencies are very important,” says GCPS Police Chief Wayne Rikard, who served on the planning committee for the event. “This type of drill builds trust, confidence, and camaraderie between officers from the different departments and agencies who normally don’t work together on a day-to-day basis. In addition, practicing an emergency in a school setting better prepares other agencies for supporting GCPS in a crisis.”

From initial “reports” to the wrap-up meeting, participants used the National Incident Management model to guide the emergency response. A command center was set up. HAZMAT teams were activated. The Gwinnett Explosives Ordinance Disposal (EOD) unit responded, bringing the county’s robot. And the City of Duluth Police Department deployed its mobile communications vehicle. System officials practiced the evacuation of the students and staff and reunification with families at a nearby park.

At the end of the day, the exercise was deemed a success as participating agencies catalogued lessons learned and the effectiveness of plans in place. “While we have worked through many scenarios on paper and know how we plan to respond in those emergencies, training with other agencies gives SROs and other school system staff a feel for response times and potential issues,” says Chief Rikard. “With this real-life feedback, we can improve our emergency plans. Ultimately, this cooperative training ensures safer and more secure schools for staff and students.”