Jacksonville Police Department, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department, Trinity Mother Frances and East Texas Medical Center held the annual emergency preparedness drill Thursday at The Landmark at the intersection of U.S. highways 69 and 79.
Every year police, fire, local hospitals and EMS entities around the state participate in emergency preparedness drills used to gauge strengths and point out weaknesses they may face in high risk emergency situations.
This year’s Jacksonville drill was a top priority situation which involved a fictional live shooter situation inside Sadler’s restaurant at The Landmark.
The drill included the Tyler Junior College vocational nursing students from the Rusk State Hospital, who acted as fatalities, severely injured trauma victims and even “annoying journalists”, according to Jessica Molanders, a nursing student from TJC.
Their participation helped test not only the skills of the police department but the students’ nerves as well.
“There were four ‘dead on arrivals’ with 16 ‘victims’ sent to local hospitals, including Trinity Mother Francis in Jacksonville, East Texas Medical Center Jacksonville and East Texas Medical Center Rusk,” said incident commander and Jacksonville Fire Chief Paul White. “We had 12 members of the JFD participating in the drill along with two ETMC ambulances, two Champion TMFH ambulances and approximately 11 members from the Jacksonville Police Department SWAT team.”
Approximately the same number of officers responded from Cherokee County Sheriff SWAT.
White said these drills happen every year so participants can be prepared for any situation to the best of their ability. Communications, how to handle different situations and deciding on the new scenarios to consider for future drills are included in the drills each year.
“The process starts when dispatch relays a message over the radio system,” White said. “In an active shooter situation like today, the call would most likely be ‘man with a gun’.
“We wait for SWAT to clear the building and secure the location to make sure our people are safe. Once the area is clear our trucks will roll in from a staging area and begin responding to the victims.”
White said Thursday’s drill was a success.
He said the initial call for the drill went out at 9 a.m. and the drill was declared complete at 10:08 a.m.
“Originally when we set up the drill we wanted to take a look at actual scenarios we felt could easily occur in today’s society,” said JPD Assistant Chief John Page. “We picked our scenario today and the setting basically where you could have a disgruntled employee or something of that nature coming to make a bad situation for people. In a situation like that, it’s good that we were able to set up a joint effort because of the size of the incident.”
Page said he was pleased with the way it turned out.
“Each year we do this, we learn more and more and each drill gets better and better,” he said. “The purpose of the drill is to learn, see the deficiencies we have and figure out ways to make them better. All of the agencies involved worked extremely well together. Our SWAT teams got together and collaborated on what was really several scenarios playing out at the same time. It gave them the opportunity to see how they meshed as a team.”
From a tactical standpoint, SWAT team member David Heredia had an inside look on what the incident was like and how each team handled it.
“As far as the approach, I think we did really good,” he said. “Our perimeter was excellent and we entered the building pretty good.
“On the inside the check was done, the bad guy was found and they did their job well. The way our approach was supposed to go, we weren’t supposed to hit the building hard. We were deliberate and very careful. It went well.”
The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department had their own concerns and had their own thoughts about how the drill went.
“I think it was a good drill and as far as I can tell, everything went very well, said Cherokee County Sheriff James Campbell.
SWAT Commander and Detective Martin Peppin agreed.
“I think it went well,” he said. “It gave us a great opportunity to work with Jacksonville Police Department SWAT. We worked on communication not only with them but EMS and fire officials as well.”
Local hospitals were also involved in the drill as well.
“Overall, I think today went pretty well,” said Karen Adams, RN, safety officer for ETMC Jacksonville. “Typically the problems that we do have in situations of this nature will be with communications. That’s why you have a drill to identify problems.
Overall the emergency service agencies in Jacksonville worked hard to facilitate proper preparedness and worked on making the city of Jacksonville the safest place it can be.
Next year’s drill scenario has not been decided.