KINGSTON—A county-wide exercise served as a great learning experience for several organizations in Marshall County on Tuesday.
Several organizations, including Kingston Public Schools, participated in a severe weather and hazardous material drill, which was a collaborative including first responders and the school. The drills are designed to improve communication and the ability to identify individual roles during an actual emergency situation.
“It allows us to exercise and evaluate our response,” James Kuykendall, Kingston emergency manager, said. “And helps us determine the things we need to train on.”
At the school, mock drills are conducted on a regular basis. Active shooter drills, tornado drills, fire drills and other types of situations are practiced at the school. This drill, however, was much more involved and simulated the aftermath of a tornado cutting across campus, causing storm damage, injuring several individuals and even causing a nearby chemical container to be displaced.
Several students participated in the drill acting as “walking injured.” The students acted as if they had injuries and were even transported to a hospital in Madill in order to give the first responders an active scenario setting from beginning to end.
“It’s huge for us,” Kuykendall said. “We really practice from the initial response to treatment.”
The first responders were given a “realistic” scene upon arrival, complete with smoke bombs to simulate fire, the injured students and “overturned” vehicles. In addition to the severe weather response, a chemical emergency response was added to the simulation. Kingston Public Schools close proximity to Highway 70 and a railway that sees heavy trafficking of chemicals prompted the drill, which calls for a “shelter in place” response by the school. Rather than attempting to evade the chemicals, school personnel and students are instructed to seal themselves into the building until the area has been cleared.
The scenario provides emergency personnel to practice how they would respond to a chemical accident, identify wind direction and determine what types of chemicals were spilled. In Tuesday’s scenario, the chemical threat was caused by the tornado that cut across campus.
“We decided to incorporate that in the exercise,” Kuykendall said. “The planners always put in a twist.”
The scenario challenges emergency responders to think quickly, as the responders learned during the exercise on Tuesday. The drill was originally suppose to incorporate several EMS ambulances on the scene, but the crews had to respond to real-life emergencies. That left the drill without ambulances for transporting the “injured” students. In response, the emergency responders loaded the students onto a school bus and transported them to the hospital in the school vehicle.
“We try to make it as realistic as we can,” Kuykendall said. “It challenges us to think outside the box.”
Ron Whipkey, Kingston Public Schools superintendent, said the drill helps the staff and students get hands on practice in different emergency situations. Emergencies are unpredictable and Whipkey said being as prepared and practiced for all types of situations can potentially help alleviate some of the challenges a real situation would present.
“It was a very fruitful exercise for us,” Whipkey said. “It helps us identify things we need to work on and what we’re doing well.”