Sabrina Thompson, The Observer

Looking at the front of La Grande High School Monday, a person might have thought a serious emergency was happening. Ambulances were lined up on the street and people were sitting and lying on the lawn, some looking as if they were injured and in need of help.

Fortunately, it was just a training simulation for volunteers, law enforcement and emergency medical services. As a part of a joint mass casualty incident training, multiple public services teamed up to work through a simulated crisis so they will be prepared if a real one occurs.

The crisis scenario they were practicing that day was for an active shooter in the high school. Police officers worked through locating, engaging and stopping the threat in the morning, and after lunch role players, first responders and EMS staff worked through the rescue phase, practicing treating injuries and facilitating what would happen in the aftermath of an incident like that.

“The great thing is, these kinds of trainings have a lot of applications outside the active shooter situation,” La Grande Police Department Lt. Gary Bell said.

In any crisis situation, responders use an incident command system. This involves selecting someone as incident commander and members of his or her team, assigning jobs and tasks, and dispatching these resources. The department that the IC comes from varies depending on the situation. An active shooter crisis would be headed by the police department, but a hazmat situation might involve having someone from the fire department as the IC.

“The incident command system is cross discipline. Just about every agency uses and understands the system, which allows them to work together, even if they don’t interact on an everyday basis,” Bell said.

In treating possible victims of an MCI, people are staged in one of three categories. Those who are uninjured and in need of little to no attention, those who might have minor injuries or need attention but not immediately, and those who are in need of the most immediate attention. Once a person’s need for care has been identified, first responders and EMS
workers get to work addressing injuries. At Monday’s training, around 75 role playing victims received simulated treatment and care. Some were taken off in ambulances to Grande Ronde Hospital, and others were “treated” at the scene.

For the first time in a Union County MCI training, nurses were brought down from the hospital to help in Monday’s scenario. This gave the nurses the opportunity to receive on-site training and practice, rather than waiting for the “victims” to arrive at the hospital.

An MCI is considered by first responders to be low-frequency, high-risk. That is to say, an MCI doesn’t happen very often, but when it does it is vital to be prepared and well trained on what to do so that the loss of life is not more than necessary. Planning this training took about six months of coordination between the school district and multiple public service departments. In each of the last four years, there has been a practice similar to the one on Monday, each with a different scenario that first responders might come across.

“It is command and control that lead to the success of an incident — our ability to wrangle this whole organization,” Bell said. “What are our priorities and the resources available to us?”

After the training is completed the first responders reconvene for what they call an “after action review.” They look at what they did well, what can be improved upon, and what was missing. According to Bell, this year’s training was a success due to great communication and interoperability among the departments. They did not see any significant shortcomings and believe that continuing to work on the skills needed for these types of situations is the next step.

Bell said there were lessons learned by each department involved, and all partners agreed that because of Monday’s interdisciplinary training — the largest cooperative effort in Union County thus far — they are better prepared to handle any MCI situation.

“Preparation and communication were key to the overall success,” Bell said.