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Monroe County Emergency Drill Offers Few Challenges or Surprises

A "full-scale" emergency drill conducted in August among Monroe County first responders seemed less than full.

Monroe County Emergency Drill Offers Few Challenges or Surprises

Photo: WFIU

Members of the Monroe County Emergency Management team launched what they called a full-scale emergency drill earlier this month, after last year’s drill – scheduled to be full-scale – was reduced to a table top version. But even this year’s exercise seemed less than full.

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Here’s the scene first responders prepared for:

  • Police cars and ambulances fill the north parking lot of Indiana University’s basketball arena, Assembly Hall.
  • Three criminals are said to have doused athletes and onlookers inside the building with an herbicide called Paraquat.
  • After the police arrive, the transgressors shoot one woman and take another hostage, ultimately sequestering themselves in the field house.

Monroe County Local Emergency Planning Committee Vice-Chairman and Indiana University Police Lieutenant Tom Lee says handling the scenario is practice which will keep county responders prepared in the event of a real emergency situation. The problem is, it’s clear this is nothing like a real emergency.

Police officers casually stroll through the Assembly Hall lobby. Buses and ambulances wait outside to pick up victims they already know will need transportation to the hospital, And just as two police officers from the response team walk through the door, someone else comes by to hand out snack bags of chips and candy to the volunteer victims who stand casually in groups chatting.

The “victims” wear paper cards pinned to their shirts describing their symptoms so there is no need for acting, lying down or wearing makeup.

Two officers head to the field house to apprehend the hostage-takers, but Lee notes they’re trained not to put up much of a fight.

“They’re gonna be given instructions: ‘Ok, you at such and such a time you come out here, and you post yourself there’, and the other two the ones who aren’t neutralized so to speak will then in fact, once the rest of the CIRT team enters the arena, they will then in fact do as they’re told.”

Ryan Todd, an instructor for the American Red Cross and a victim in this year’s event, calls the drill “full-scale-light” — and he would know. Todd has served as a victim during several emergency drills, including one search and rescue practice in which he was buried under about three tons of rubble.

He’s also responded in the aftermath of actual emergencies, including helping with rescue efforts following the collapse of the World Trade Towers. Todd said knowing what to do and doing it during an actual emergency are two different things.

“I’m an EMT myself. Yeah, I have one patient I know what I’m doing. I follow my protocols, that’s easy,” Todd said. “But when I have 18 people outside my door waiting to come see me and they’re all acting out and I’m actually doing vitals and I’m actually doing medical history and I’m doing procedures, well it’s a different story.”

Lee says county departments in the drill focused instead on communication between their agencies, making elements of surprise or realistic details unnecessary.

Certainly the agencies, like law enforcement agencies and fire departments, they respond and you know all their personnel know very well what to do and they’re good at it,” Lee said.  “Its sometimes when you start bringing all these agencies together number one, just deciding up front, or in advance who’s gonna be in charge.

Back at Assembly Hall, the decontamination process begins. Some victims are carted through a small white tent carried on back boards and loaded into ambulances, others are asked to simply walk through and board waiting city buses set to transport victims to Bloomington’s two area hospitals.

At Monroe Hospital, victim’s names are taken and two volunteers are decontaminated again by stepping through a small blue tent that victim Susan Hingle compares to a car wash. This time responders use real water, but skip the soap, scrubbers and the 20 minute soak required in the case of actual chemical spills.

Hospital employees explain that typically they’d take vitals, diagnose symptoms and lead patients to the proper area to be treated. Instead, they’re herded to the cafeteria for more snacks.

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