Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

August 22, 2013

Disaster Drill: Annual exercise offers teachers and officials a glimpse into realistic hostage, anthrax scenarios in area schools

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — Considering the grim scenarios involved in this particular Wednesday morning exercise, “disaster drill” appeared to be a fairly mild description.

This Jacksonville Middle School event involved simulated hostage taking, fatal gun attacks on young children, and the release of deadly anthrax into the atmosphere.

For many who remember the horror of incidents such as the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., it appeared to be a powerful exercise in the sentiment, “Please don't ever let something like this ever happen in Cherokee County.”

It was a very involved drill. It's “victims” received medical assistance the scene. Some were even taken to local hospitals.

Participating teachers, meanwhile, said it was unnerving hearing and seeing the shooters working together, yelling instructions and information at one another.

JMS history teacher Melinda Graves, in particular, was one of the hostages.

“I couldn't make any noise because he (the shooter) would have killed me,” she explained.

Some of Graves' fellow teachers were asked to play certain characters with specific scenarios. Stephanie Mercer, eighth grade reading teacher, was “Sara D,” a 12-year-old student with a gunshot won to her left lower extremity. According to her small script, she was “bleeding profusely.”

“I screamed and hit the floor,” Mercer said.

Amber Danner-Kirk, a social studies intervention teacher and girl's coach, played “Abby F,” a 14-year-old deaf special needs student who had suffered gunshot wounds to her lower abdomen.

“It was really scary hearing (an assailant) come toward me,” she said. “Once he got to my door things started happening really fast.”

Evan Harrison, football and track coach, played “Tony H,” a 13-year-old  student with a gunshot wooden to his right lower extremity.

 Many agencies were involved – starting with the Cherokee County Public Health Department and including the Cherokee County Emergency Management Coordinator, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department, ETMC EMS, and ETMC Jacksonville.

Also involved was the East Texas Council of Governments, Jacksonville Fire Department, Jacksonville Independent School District, Jacksonville Police Department, Trinity Mother Frances Jacksonville, Rusk Independent School District, Rusk Police Department and Piney Woods Regional Advisory Council Trauma G.

Karen Adams, ETMC Jacksonville committee co-chair, said the drill was necessary for emergency preparedness.

“It is critical for agencies to collaborate when preparing for events such as this,” she said in a news release. “ Agencies must coordinate planning efforts within the context of the community. This exercise  allows stakeholders to have a better understanding of local, state and regional resources, improve organizational processes, and address any future needs.”

Paul Duncan of Trinity Mother Frances-Jacksonville, who also serves as co-chair of the event, agreed.

“It's important for our patients to know that every drill brings our staff to a higher level of readiness – should a real disaster occur,” he said in the release.