Interagency partners recount lessons learned during attack exercise

On Sept. 23, Grand County law enforcement and emergency response agencies, along with Middle Park Health, Middle Park High School and other community stakeholders, awaited an emergency in the making.

It was simulated, but that doesn’t matter. These partners were part of a community-wide effort to gauge, and improve, Grand County’s reaction to a possible disaster. The exercise last Friday took place at Middle Park High School. It involved a pretend active shooter and simulated explosive attack both of which created a “hazmat scenario,” said Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin.

There were role players acting as victims inside the school. Some were transported to the Middle Park Health emergency room. Schroetlin said he helped organize the multi-agency training with Granby Police Chief Dave Shaffer. It came to Grand County through the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training at Louisiana State University.

Schroetlin declined to offer too many details about the event, due to the sensitivity of operational and tactical law enforcement practices. But he described how the training unfolded in three phases: a classroom session, the practice incident and what he called after-action review.

“You need the training, which supports the mission cooperation and collaboration, and then (you need to be able to) test your skills as best you can in a real-world scenario, and then the third part was the review,” said Schroetlin. “What worked well, what didn’t work well, and where we can improve. That’s the constant quality assurance we all strive for.”

Todd Short, one of lead instructors for the research group, said the group conducts a myriad of different courses on different topics. One of them is specific to integrating the response of communities so that they are prepared to respond during emergencies.

“This course is called an integrated response course, and the whole premise is to get different agencies, different disciplines, both first responder, sworn status and civilian personnel,” he said. “(It trains them in) the ability to come together, share ideas and discuss operational paradigms, so that if an emergency were ever to occur, people would know where to go, what to do when they got there and what defined roles (would be).”

Brad White, the chief of Grand County Fire Protection District #1, participated in the event with his agency, and said the “incidents within the larger incident” included a vegetation fire, two active shooters in a hostage situation, a mass casualty incident, a number of improvised explosive devices and a hazardous materials issue.

Responders worked issues in the field and support staff from the town, school district, hospital district, county, fire district and emergency management operated an emergency operations center, said White.

The group went to great lengths to make things as realistic as possible, he added. This included involving role players who were dressed up with wounds and were well-prepped to act.

“The radio traffic quickly reached the magnitudes we see in large incidents, and I think both responders in the field and staff at the (emergency operations center) easily fell into the mindset of a real incident, including some of the stress and the minds,” White said.

He also reiterated what Schroetlin identified as one of his main takeaways from the incident. It was that Grand County agencies need to work together instead of staying in their respective response areas, something he says they do on an everyday basis.

“The number one thing is that your leadership has to believe in (collaboration),” White said. He noted Grand County’s collaboration was an area it scored particularly well on in the training.

Addressing what county agencies need to work on, White cited communication plans, especially when it comes to bringing in responders from outside Grand County.

“Bringing in a state hazmat team is easy enough to integrate on a simple incident, but as we look at our more complex incidents, we quickly run out of bandwidth to accommodate all the communication nuances,” he said. “… I think we’re starting to see larger events frequently enough that we need a better plan. It’s difficult for us to stand up a full (emergency operations center) early in an incident, and we probably need to look for some volunteers outside of the normal response groups and government organizations that are willing to get some training and show up and help when things are going bad.”

Ultimately White, Schroetlin and East Grand Fire Chief Todd Holzwarth all agreed that following the exercise, Grand County is safer.

“Whenever we can train together and get to know each other, we are more effective and better serve the public,” said Holzwarth, “no matter what the incident is.”

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