St. Charles prepares for worst

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 5, 2014

By Monique Roth

LULING – The sound of gunshots rang out and smoke filled the air in what was an as-real-as-it-gets training exercise for several local law enforcement and emergency response agencies.

The St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office and the St. Charles Parish Public School System conducted a joint-training exercise on Jan. 31 at R.K. Smith Middle School in Luling.

A scenario involving students and some actors played out at the school and involved a story line of a group of four shooters who entered the school and caused mass casualties and injuries.

The purpose of the exercise was to test a multi-level response by the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, beginning with emergency calls for help to the 911 Communications Center from the school and actions taken by the first responding deputies and the Sheriff’s Office Special Response Team and Command Staff.

In addition, the school response to multiple emergencies within the school using real-life scenarios was also tested.

Make-up artists applied graphic wounds to the students who were playing victims, and emergency crews worked to remove every student from the school.

A triage center was set up in a nearby field, and all students playing victims were brought to St. Charles Hospital to let emergency teams there conduct a drill on what it would be like if there were a large number of victims being admitted at once.

Students screamed out for help and tugged on police responders as they worked to secure the school as a crime scene and ensure safety for the students still in the building. Detectives, who were working to determine who the suspects were among the large crowd, interviewed each student and faculty member who exited the school.

“In a crisis, each responding agency has specific roles and responsibilities. Each has a response plan they follow,” said Capt. Patrick Yoes, public information officer with the St. Charles Sheriff’s Office. “This event helped everyone see how their plan worked and complimented the roles and responsibilities of other agencies. From this experience we can make adjustments as needed to best carry out the mission.”

More than 200 volunteer students and another 200 faculty members participated in the drill, in addition to representatives from 14 emergency response teams.

“We have been doing this for about eight years, and each time it has grown in scale,” said Yoes.

Representatives from the Luling Fire Department, Hahnville Fire Department, Paradis Fire Department, St. Charles Hospital Emergency Medical Service, St. Charles Emergency Operations Center, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Air Support Unit, State Police, JPSO SWAT, Kenner SWAT, St. John SWAT, FBI SWAT, Dow, Monsanto and Shell/Motiva participated in the training exercise.

Emphasis was placed on the use of the Incident Command System by the emergency agencies under the National Incident Management System as now required by a Homeland Security Presidential Directive.

The event “illustrated the complexity of dealing with such an event and helped all participating understand their roles and responsibilities,” said Yoes. “Each walked away with a better appreciation of their role and the need for interagency cooperation.”