BEREA, Ohio – The Berea City School District mass casualty exercise was just a drill, but it certainly felt real.
Berea, Brook Park and Middleburg Heights police and fire personnel, as well as county emergency management officials, converged on Berea-Midpark High School on June 6 to conduct safety training and multiple-scenario active shooter simulations.
Training drills also occurred at Berea-Midpark Middle School in Middleburg Heights and Brook Park Elementary School the following two days. Planning for the three-day session took approximately 18 months.
For role-playing “victim” volunteers, and even visiting observers, the simulation inside the high school was intense. Knowing no live ammunition was being used didn’t lessen the impact, with the onset of weapons fire sudden and startling.
If the echoing gunshots didn’t make one’s stomach clench or palms sweat, watching focused, heavily armed officers search for the shooter did.
By then, moans and screams from role players covered with fake, bloody wounds had begun, some pleading for help while others lay motionless. Many hunkered down behind barricaded classroom doors or remained quietly hidden elsewhere awaiting medical help or rescue.
After the shooting stopped, an unnerving silence ensued. Where once a crowd of volunteers gathered and conversed in the common areas prior to the drill, now there was utter stillness.
It was tough to witness, but the training is vital.
“We’re doing this to better prepare when responding to a mass casualty incident,” explained Bryan Kloss of the Cuyahoga County Office of Emergency Management. “This full-scale exercise gives more hands-on experience to the first responders so that it becomes muscle memory.
“We’re trying to impress better tactics, better methodology and better principles. We look at every single aspect of this type of response and recovery, identifying gaps and creating lessons learned.”
BCSD Assistant Superintendent Mike Draves emphasized the importance of the mass casualty training exercises, but also said the district conducts additional training with teachers that seeks to prevent such dire situations from occurring.
“This (drill) is reactive because we have to prepare for the worst,” Draves said. “But we also deal with the mental health aspect by providing extensive threat assessment training to our staff.”
First responders assembled for a debriefing after each completed drill.
“Because these types of incidents don’t happen often, it becomes even more important for us to train for it,” Brook Park Fire Chief Mark Higgins said. “We’re going to learn better communications because we need to be able to communicate successfully with the outside agencies coming in and with our inside crews.”
“It is a dynamic exercise, depending on what kind of emergency is presented,” added Middleburg Heights Fire Chief Briant Galgas.
“But ultimately at the end of the day, it is about making sure all of this massive amount of mutual aid can work together efficiently.”
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