Exercise in Topeka Prepares Responders for Active Assailant

The training was organized by the Shawnee County, Kan., Department of Emergency Management and included several area agencies.

by Katie Moore, The Topeka Capital-Journal, Kan. / February 27, 2019

(TNS) - Dozens of emergency responders rushed Tuesday around the Capitol Federal building in downtown Topeka during an exercise simulating an active assailant incident.

The training was organized by the Shawnee County, Kan., Department of Emergency Management and included several area agencies.

"We like to think when it happens here, versus if — that way we have that mindset and we're more prepared," said emergency management director Dusty Nichols.

The rescue task force stems from the 1999 Columbine High School shooting and other mass casualty events.

"A lot of studies have said that the people who have perished in those incidents actually just bled out because there was nobody to rescue them," Nichols said. "So in the time since then, we've trained firemen and medical personnel to follow after law enforcement goes in. Law enforcement's goal is to stop the shooter, not to do any rescue."

A "warm zone" can be formed for medical care outside the "hot zone" where law enforcement is working, Nichols said.

While the local task force has undergone training, it isn't complete until it is tested through an exercise.

"If you don't practice the plan, you never know if it's working," Nichols said, adding that they can make adjustments to the plans based on what they learn from the exercise.

Shawnee County emergency management planning section chief Errin Mahan said one of the goals was to see how the police department, fire department and emergency medical services work together. About 35 first responders and 55 volunteers participated in the exercise, which lasted about 90 minutes.

"You can think about what you're going to do, but unless you actually carry it out in an exercise where there's panic, yelling, screaming, people all around you, you never really know how you're going to react," Mahan said.

Organizers took steps to make the exercise as realistic as possible, with Mahan and Nichols getting a lesson from a local makeup artist to create realistic looking wounds.

As Mahan applied fake blood to one of the actors, he said the training gives those involved "the real-world aspect without a real-world incident."

Nichols said the training included smells and sounds that might be encountered during such an incident.

"A lot of times we're afraid of the unknown," he said. "We can practice that so the unknown becomes the known."

Lux Pettigrew is studying at the Washburn Institute of Technology to become a dispatcher and played one of the victims. She said she was interested in seeing what happens on the other side of the radio.

Kylee Black, of Perry, also volunteered. As an EMT student, she said, she wanted to see whether she would panic or stay calm.

Tom Hagen, spokesman for Capitol Federal, said some employees with the bank participated as volunteers.

"This is an opportunity to strengthen our partnership with first responders and emergency management in Shawnee County," he said. "It gives them the opportunity to train, to practice and really hone their skills in case this scenario or a situation like this ever unfolds in the community. It also gives volunteers an opportunity to see what that situation would be like and better prepare them."

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