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First responders, UMF participate in full-scale emergency exercise

Volunteers acting as the victims of a mass casualty incident are applied with red paint before the exercise begins Friday morning.

Volunteers acting as the victims of a mass casualty incident are applied with red paint before the exercise begins Friday morning.

FARMINGTON — More than 200 first responders, volunteers, hospital and university staff and emergency management overseers participated in a mass casualty exercise near High Street Friday morning.

The drill, the first of its kind on a college campus in Maine, consisted of an active shooter at the University of Maine at Farmington, with multiple casualties and hostages. Further complicating the scenario was the deployment of a explosive device in a vehicle at the Olson Student Center parking lot, a tactic that Maine Emergency Management Agency trainers overseeing the drill said had been used by shooters in the past.

The exercise began as dispatchers received a report of an active shooter in Preble Hall, with the initial law enforcement officers responding immediately. Soon after arriving, a smoke bomb set off by MEMA detonated in a red SUV just off of High Street. Victims of the blast quickly arrived and arrayed themselves around the smoking SUV.

Ambulances and fire engines arrived, as an Emergency Operations Center was set up at the Farmington Fire Station. Wilton Police Chief Heidi Wilcox was appointed incident commander; the presumption is that UMF Public Safety Chief Brock Caton and Farmington Police Chief Jack Peck would be among the first responders to an incident.

In Preble Hall, the shooter, played by acting Jay Police Chief Richard Caton IV, is cornered on the second floor and shot with a training gun by his brother, Chief Brock Caton. Ambulances arrive at the end of South Street, awaiting word that it's safe to begin evacuating victims. Meanwhile, Farmington Fire Rescue on High Street use a loudspeaker to address victims scattered around the red SUV.

"If you are a victim, and you can walk," the firefighter says, "walk to us."

Franklin Memorial Hospital receives word about the incident and puts its emergency plans into effect, including security for the anticipated flood of injured. At the Mt. Blue Campus, emergency management set up a Family Assistance Center, where students will be bused from UMF to make contact with their families.

There are curve balls, of course. A car accident on the Wilton Road diverts resources. A woman at the Family Assistance Center goes into cardiac arrest as another victim has a nervous breakdown and needs to be restrained.

Word arrives that Preble Hall has been declared "warm;" it's a crime scene, but safe for EMTs to enter. Ambulances arrive and line up down high street, backboards laid in rows. The first EMTs in the building are triaging, marking victims with tags that distinguish their status: yellow is injured, red is critical and black is dead. Police officers accompany each EMT and ambulance, carrying distinctive blue training guns.

"It takes time to get all of your resources set up," Franklin County Emergency Management Agency Director Tim Hardy said, watching the EMTs escort victims from Preble Hall, "but things seem to be going well."

Communications are challenging, as always. Personal radios don't always carry to dispatch or incident command, agencies used to operating on a single frequency must monitor multiple networks and cell phone availability is dubious, given the amount of traffic that accompanies a shooting incident.

"No matter how much money we put into radios," Farmington Fire Rescue Chief Terry Bell said during the debriefing that followed the exercise, "we're never going to totally solve the communication problem."

Communication was one of the hardest things to do well, MEMA exercise director Scott Parker said, but he thought Franklin County's responders had done well. There are small issues, like cell phones not functioning throughout portions of Mt. Blue Campus, and bigger ones, like FMH not being notified promptly enough to anticipate injuries. The agencies involved with the drill will take what worked and what didn't and use it as part of their ongoing training.

"This is all about making partnerships," Hardy said. "This is something new, and for these folks to assist us and open the campus up for these exercises, I really want to applaud UMF."

A number of other colleges sent observers to watch the exercise, which lasted approximately two hours.

The drill represented 18 months of planning, going back to a tabletop exercise conducted at UMF on April 4, 2013. Personnel spent a day discussing simulated scenarios and possible responses. This was taken to the next level on Aug. 8, 2013, when a functional exercise was conducted. In that case, communication protocols were tested through having the different responding agencies coordinate a response out of separate rooms.

A smoke bomb simulates an explosive device in the Olsen Student Center parking lot.

A smoke bomb simulates an explosive device in the Olsen Student Center parking lot.

Firefighters stage on High Street.

Firefighters stage on High Street.

Farmington Police Department personnel run from Preble Hall down to the Olsen Student Center site.

Farmington Police Department personnel run from Preble Hall down to the Olsen Student Center site.

Ambulances arrive to evacuate the wounded from Preble Hall.

Ambulances arrive to evacuate the wounded from Preble Hall.

FCEMA Public Information Officer Clyde Ross lists a minute-by-minute review of the various events for members of the press.

FCEMA Public Information Officer Clyde Ross lists a minute-by-minute review of the various events for members of the press, as they occur.

Officers at the incident command post in the fire station coordinate the response.

Officers at the incident command post in the fire station coordinate the response.

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1 Responses »

  1. Wow! Great work, everyone!

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