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Cannon Beach school mass casualty drill prepares emergency personnel – just in case

‘Hopefully, it will never happen’

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Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 11:41 am | Updated: 11:06 am, Mon Feb 18, 2013.

CANNON BEACH — Before the shots rang out during a drill at Cannon Beach Elementary School and police officers rushed in to capture three “shooters” dressed in helmets and camouflage, Susan Agalzoff, a paramedic with the Seaside Fire Department, recalled her experience when two youths killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School.

She was doing her paramedic internship in 1999 in Colorado when she was paged to a “stage out” for an MCI – a mass casualty incident.

“I had no idea what I was going to,” she recalled. “I didn’t know it was a school shooting. I just knew it wasn’t a drill.”

On Monday, as Agalzoff applied makeup to students’ faces, legs and arms to make them look like they had been shot or lacerated, she called the drill that was about to occur at Cannon Beach Elementary “awesome.”

“It’s really good to prepare for an event like this. Hopefully, it will never happen. But we’ll know what to do,” Agalzoff said.

About 32 youths and adults played the roles of victims of three shooters at the drill Monday morning. They carried instructions on index cards, describing their injuries.

The training involved 20 Cannon Beach Police officers and Clatsop County Sheriff’s deputies, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew, at least 14 volunteer firefighters from Cannon Beach, Seaside and Hamlet, and Medix Ambulance personnel. The 911 dispatch center at the Seaside Police Department also participated.

Patterned after the school shootings at Columbine and in Newtown, Conn., the drill was designed to prepare emergency personnel for a local mass casualty incident.

At the end of the drill, Cannon Beach Police Chief Jason Schermerhorn said the officers “did an excellent job of taking out the bad guys.” All the agencies coordinated their efforts, he said, and added, “We’re just too small a town not to work together.”

While some parents declined to have their children participate in the drill, Bobbi Rae Myers was happy to have her three children, who attend school in Astoria and Ocean Park, Wash., act as “victims.”

“I think it’s a great opportunity for them to be a little more realistic,” said Myers, who works in Schermerhorn’s office as an administrative assistant. “They know they’re acting, but when it starts, there will be a good realization about what it could be like. I think having the knowledge is better.”

The drill also might make parents consider what they would do in such an emergency, Myers added.

“It makes you think about how you’re going to evacuate your family,” she said.

The drill began a little after 11 a.m. Monday, when three “shooters,” armed with semi-automatic rifles and handguns, rushed into Classroom 3.

Shots sounded, and children screamed. A “teacher” lay dead in the back of a classroom, and her students were sprawled in other areas, some injured, some lying very still.

Suddenly, an outside siren went off, along with an internal fire alarm. Myers was one of the adults assigned to call 911.

“He had some type of mask on,” she told the police dispatcher. “He is wearing camouflage. The other man is in all black. Yes ma’am,” Myers answered a dispatcher’s question, “an assault rifle.”

Suddenly, a shooter appeared, pointed his gun at Myers and told her to hang up and get down on the floor. Myers complied.

The shooters walked back and forth between the school office and three classrooms, pointing their guns and shouting at students and teachers. Police officers and deputies arrived and found several students, a secretary and at least one teacher “injured” or “dead.”

In a rush, they pursued the shooters and “killed” them.

The deputies checked all the restrooms and other areas where shooters could hide. “We need to provide security for medical, and another team needs to do a secondary sweep,” a deputy said.

The Coast Guard helicopter crew reported no sightings of other shooters running from the scene. The danger appeared to have passed.

With that, the officers began checking the victims and escorting those with minor injuries to the outside hallway next to the office. They assured the other victims that medics would be there soon.

When the scene was secured, paramedics from the Cannon Beach and Hamlet fire departments entered the building and began checking the victims. Some, they noted, needed immediate attention, while others had injuries that weren’t quite as serious. Six persons “died.”

When the Medix ambulance arrived, the seriously injured were loaded onto gurneys and taken to the ambulance. From there, they went to the gymnasium at the Cannon Beach Christian Conference Center, where a command center, manned by city officials, had been established.

After the hour-long drill was over, the volunteers, officers and firefighters headed over to the conference center for pizza and a debriefing.

Brad Cantrell, of Clatskanie, who played a shooter, said he had an “odd feeling” about the role he portrayed.

“It makes you wonder what would go through a person’s mind,” said Cantrell, who works as a sales representative for an archery store. “It’s role-playing, but at the same time, it’s real.”

With three children in Clatskanie Elementary School, Cantrell said before the drill that he worried about what was being done to protect students.

After the drill, he was adamant that a security guard should be posted at schools’ front doors.

The idea that a shooter could enter a school without being challenged “made me sick to my stomach,” Cantrell said. “If I was a bad guy, I could really hurt somebody.”

“Do I want guns in the classroom? No,” he said. “Do I want a security guard at the entrance? Yes.”

Renae Murphy, of Brownsmead, who played a secretary in the school office and was seriously “wounded,” praised the police for their quick action. But she said she was surprised when the paramedics walked past her after giving her a cursory examination.

“I felt a little left out,” she said. “I suppose that was the way it was supposed to be, but they left the victims a little alone.”

While Schermerhorn applauded his officers and the sheriff’s deputies for their efficient response, he said law enforcement agencies throughout Clatsop County need to dedicate one radio channel that all the agencies could use during such emergencies to improve communication.

In addition, he said, local chaplains must be notified that they are needed at the site where parents will be told to wait for information.

Lt. Matt Gardner, training officer for the Cannon Beach Fire Department, led his team through the classrooms to determine the extent of victims’ injuries. He called the drill “phenomenal.”

Usually, the paramedics answer calls involving only one or two injured people, he said. “This just multiplied everything times 15. It heightens your adrenalin.”

Gardner said he expected that further debriefing would bring up the need for some improvements.

“Obviously, we will have things come out of it,” he said. “That is why we have an evaluation, so we can learn from it.”

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