School invasion drill
VICTOR IZZO/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Jim Thorpe Fire Department Chief William Diehm, with papers, coordinates with Hazmat personnel during the simulated school invasion at the Jim Thorpe Area High School.
To the repetitive cautionary alert of "Exercise! Exercise!" from the Carbon County 911 Center, a simulated nightmare scenario of a school invasion began at the Jim Thorpe Area High School.
Police, emergency responders, school officials, emergency management agencies and the coroner's office all converged at the site of this frighteningly realistic drill with the official title of "Jim Thorpe High School Active Shooter/Bomber Full Scale Exercise."
Special equipment such as decontamination vehicles and rehab tents also were called to the scene.
The story line of the exercise was that a shooter had invaded the high school and tried to get people out of the building.
He then remotely detonated an explosive device in a vehicle in the school's parking lot.
There were some common chemicals in the car such as sodium hydroxide, commonly known as drain cleaner.
They suspect was trying to impact people with both shrapnel and chemicals.
The shooter was eventually neutralized by law enforcement inside the building.
There were a number of gunshot injuries as well as some explosive shrapnel injuries from the explosion and some chemical injuries.
Additionally, a number of people were psychological casualties.
To best handle the treatment of the victims, a "triage" unit was set outside the high school.
Captain Ron Rutt of the Lehigh County Special Operations Team outlined the decontamination procedures that would follow.
In stage one, "mass decon" was set up in the school parking lot where victims would be inundated with copious amounts of water.
Once they come out of mass decon, they move onto stage two, "technical decon" where the victims would get stripped down and washed off in showers.
Before victims go through stage two, technical decon they get a "pre-decon kit" and personal items such as clothing, shoes, keys, etc. go into the supplied bags which are labeled with their name.
They are then sent through a shower to thoroughly scrub up and when they exit the shower, they receive a "post decon kit" which contains a towel, gown, and booties and they then receive additional instructions.
They would then move on to stage three, "post decon triage" where their injuries are looked at and cared for by EMS now that they are decontaminated.
It was noted that victims cannot be sent to the hospital until they have been "deconned."
If they are put in an ambulance before they are decontaminated, the ambulance would become contaminated and it would then be out of service.
Also, in mass decon the water used does not have to be captured because it is an emergency situation and there is so much water used with the chemical that is supposed to have been in the simulation vehicle, that the water is safely diluted.
Carbon County EMA Department Coordinator Mark Nalesnik said it is necessary for those involved to practice this type of drill.
"It is very important to bring Emergency Services Agencies together and go through the paces of what they would do if this happened for real," Nalesnik said.
"It allows us to identify areas needed for improvement and it also helps us to identify best practices and things that go well so that we will know to keep those in the planning and always do them."
Nalesnik said that without the funding and resources available through the Northeast Pennsylvania Regional Counterterrorism Task Force, the exercise would not have been possible.
Jim Thorpe High School Principal Tom Lesisko also commented on the exercise.
"It was a great test of everyone's system and procedures, where they could find weaknesses and really improve upon them," said Lesisko.
"When you're dealing with 800 or 900 students, it takes a lot of cooperation and coordination from everyone involved."
Jim Thorpe Mayor Michael Sofranko thanked all of those involved, from school officials to those from the surrounding communities.
"It was very worthwhile and it was good to see how professional everyone has acted," Sofranko said.
"It will show where we need some improvements but it also shows where we've been very diligent on the educational process up until this point.
"I was extremely impressed with the way the Jim Thorpe Police Chief Joseph Schatz and Corporal Noonan from the Pennsylvania State Police worked together at the onset of the incident. It made me feel very good about the interaction between the two departments, they did a great job," he added.
Units participating in the simulation included: Carbon County EMA, Lehigh County EMA, Lehigh County Special Operations Team, Jim Thorpe Fire Department, Jim Thorpe Police Department, Pennsylvania State Police, Jim Thorpe school representatives, Lehighton Ambulance, St. Luke's Ambulance, Weatherly Ambulance, District 13 from Nesquehoning, District 14 from Summit Hill, Carbon County Fire Police, and Coaldale, Lehighton, and Palmerton hospitals.