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Technical High School First Responder Program Unveils Its Own EOC

The Vinal Technical High School in Connecticut recently opened its own Emergency Operations Center, which will be activated during real disasters from around the country and staffed by Vinal students.

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The fledgling Criminal Justice and Protective Services Program at Vinal Technical High School in Middletown, Conn., took a big step toward the big time recently when it unveiled its EOC, calling it the first of its kind in the nation.

The EOC will be staffed with sophomores and juniors from the program. Freshmen aren’t allowed in the EOC yet and there are no seniors in the program yet. The students will deploy for real-life disasters and monitor the Internet and feeding real-time information to their teacher, David Cruickshank, when he is deployed with his National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) team.

By the time the students are allowed to run the EOC, they are ready for it, having taken Incident Command System (ICS) 100, 700 and 800, and becoming familiar with FEMA forms and language while freshmen and sophomores.

“We have binders for each position [in the EOC] and they run it impressively,” Cruickshank said. “Whenever I’m deployed with NDMS for hurricanes or other disasters around the country, their only job will be operation of the EOC and supporting me in the field.”

Cruickshank said he’ll Skype in every morning to the EOC, and the students will feed him ICS information. “It’s going to be incredible having an extra 40 people on my team,” he said.

Cruickshank said the students will be a big help to him and his deployed team. “Everything is online now, and everything is more efficient. If we’re treating patients out in the field, and if lightning is coming, it would be nice to know,” he said. “It will make an unbelievable difference.”

So far, the students have been involved in mock trainings and have done well. “They think like kids, they don’t think like us, they think outside the box,” Cruickshank said, relating the story of a student who located all the Home Depots within 50 miles during a mock earthquake. “I said they would probably be all sold out of supplies, but the student said, ‘No, for the trucks. You’ll need trucks.’ Brilliant.”

All freshmen in the program start off by getting certified in CPR and then about half of the freshmen get stop-the-bleed training. They also get versed in constitutional law, state and federal law, domestic violence law and basic notetaking, which is “surprisingly challenging for some people,” Cruickshank said. They will also learn about de-escalation techniques, blood-borne pathogens and basic interviewing.

As sophomores, the students will dive into the ICS courses and FEMA training. Students will be responsible for 10 hours a year of online FEMA training on their own and then take tests during class.

As juniors, the students get into fire operations, criminal investigations, emergency medicine, and will be certified as emergency medical responders. Cruickshank said there will be 11 certifications available by the time the students graduate. The juniors also learn about terrorism, site security assessment, and get certified as drone pilots.

“It’ a pretty intense four years,” Cruickshank said. “It’s pretty impressive.”

The students get visits from local police and fire on a regular basis and much of the training is supplemented by outside sources, for instance, the hazmat training is done by a local fire marshal.

Eversource, the local power company, has helped with equipment for the EOC and supplied it with a battery back-up system. It will also provide emergency managers to help out in the EOC.

Cruickshank himself has a background in law enforcement, fire and emergency medical. He said about a quarter of the students are interested in pursuing law enforcement, about half are interested in emergency medicine, and the rest want to pursue emergency management and fire. Although two want to be lawyers.