Agencies to join forces for school drill

Posted: Tuesday, October 09, 2001

Passing citizens may see troopers, police and firefighters swarming Redoubt Elementary School in Soldotna from 1 to 4 p.m. today.

But there should be no cause for panic. Law enforcers and firefighters simply will be helping the staff practice the school's critical incident plan. The drill is part of Kenai Peninsula Borough School District in-service training.

Soldotna Police Chief Shirley Warner said there will be two scenarios -- a school lock-down to protect occupants from a hostile intruder and an evacuation for a bomb or a fire.

She said city police will be the first responders, followed by the Special Emergency Response Team, which includes officers from the Homer and Soldotna police departments, Alaska State Troopers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Alaska Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection. The drill also will draw Central Emergency Services firefighters and medics.

Trooper Lt. Tom Bowman said a hostile intruder to the schools could be anyone from a troubled student to someone from outside the building or a parent in a child custody dispute. Warner said the school must tailor its response -- from locking students in classrooms to clearing the building -- to the situation.

"Maybe shelter-in-place is most appropriate, or maybe evacuation is most appropriate," Warner said.

Parent liaison Sharon Hale, who is on the school's critical incident committee, said the school operates under a generic critical incident plan drawn by Patrick Hickey, the district's former assistant superintendent for business services. Hickey had experience working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Under the plan, the school will set up an incident command system, and every member of the staff will have a job, Hale said. The Redoubt staff has never had a drill where the whole staff has been able to play the assigned roles.

Hale and grade five-six teacher Zada Friedersdorff have put considerable time into preparing for today's drill.

The drill also will help troopers learn to coordinate with other agencies, Bowman said.

"Any time you're bringing multiple agencies together, all the practice you can get is needed," he said.

Warner said Soldotna police will practice their own critical incident plan and check how well that meshes with the plan used by the school district. Participants will join in a debriefing after the drill.

"We'll look at what could be done better, what worked well and how to make the plan more effective," she said.

Len Malmquist, chief of Central Emergency Services, said drills in other schools have helped iron out the wrinkles in dealing with crises. CES helped with a drill at Sterling Elementary School last year and with one at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School two years ago.

In the K-Beach drill, participants practiced evacuating for a major fire.

"We learned we can't have them evacuate to the front of the school, because that's where the fire trucks come in," Malmquist said.

The drill also uncovered communications problems and determined the need to keep school officials with the fire commander to help keep track of school staff.

The school found that its first-aid cache was inaccessible due to the simulated fire. Malmquist said he thinks the cache since has been split between two locations.

In the Sterling drill, CES walked school officials through table-top simulation of a major earthquake, from drop-and-cover to exiting the school quickly after the quake and gathering where students and staff could be accounted for.

Since the drill was in winter, the gathering place was the Sterling fire station, he said.

In today's drill, CES responders will gain practice working with school and law enforcement officials in conducting a school evacuation, he said.

Gary Whiteley, school district assistant superintendent for instruction, said the central office conducted a table-top intruder drill from FEMA several weeks ago. Communications among school district staff and with outside agencies were an important issue, he said. That drill also left two options -- shelter in place or evacuate.

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