Simulated mass casualty drill goes ‘very well’

PHILIP A. HOLMES/Sun-Gazette Members of the Montour-Columbia County Special Response Team storm the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce building at West Fourth and Pine streets during Sunday’s mock terrorist attack.

Two gunmen jumped out of the back of a pickup truck near the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce Building at West Fourth and Pine streets just after 9 a.m. Sunday.

As the truck made its way down Fourth Street, the driver ran over nearly 100 parade spectators.

A couple minutes later, the two gunman entered the commerce building and opened fire. A police officer hearing the shots ran into the building and was fatally wounded by one of the gunmen, but not before the gunman was shot, but not killed, by the cop.

Soon, much of downtown was swarming with ambulances, police officers as well as other emergency vehicles as the extensive process of “triaging” the wounded got underway.

That was the scenario that played out for at least the next three hours during a terrorist attack training exercise that involved more than 250 emergency responders as well as volunteer “victims” of the attack.

In addition to police officers, firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians, several county coroners, under the direction of Lycoming County Coroner Charles E. Kiessling Jr., worked together to handle those “killed” during the mass casualty exercise.

A Pennsylvania State Coroners Association Disaster Assistance trailer that carries basic equipment

a doctor might need to do autopsies near a disaster scene was set up a few blocks west. Other trailers used to temporarily store the bodies of “victims” also were used.

“One of the biggest things I think we learned was seeing how communication went among the multiple agencies participating in an exercise such as this that involved two separate scenes,” said Jim Slotterback, emergency preparedness coordinator for UPMC Susquehanna, which coordinated and directed the drill for the fourth year in a row.

At both emergency scenes, ambulances lined up to transport the “victims” whose injuries quickly were assessed from the most critical to the least serious, Slotterback said.

At the same time, the county’s negotiations team was called in to try to communicate with one gunman who took four people hostage in a room on an upper floor of the commerce building. The Montour-Columbia County Special Response Team (SRT), a group of heavily-armed specially-trained officers, was dispatched to the scene.

The injured gunman was brought outside, assessed and whisked away to a hospital for further treatment.

The scenarios ended with an SRT team member shooting to death the “hostage” taker. All four hostages survived. The driver who plowed into the crowd with his truck was shot and killed by an officer.

Slotterback said an estimated 65 “victims” were triaged at the parade scene. Another 25 were pronounced dead at the scene. At the commerce building, an estimated 45 people were injured and another 20 were killed at the scene.

“Everything went off the way we planned it. A lot of the providers (emergency responders) were challenged with the scenario, but they did very well improvising and adapting,” Slotterback said.

“It’s great to see so many groups come together and prepare themselves for any contingency that could come down the pike,” he added.

Employees from the River Valley Health and Dental Center, located in the nearby Hepburn Center, assisted in demonstrating for the “victims” on how to apply tourniquets and pack wounds, all in an effort to educate the public on how to “stop the bleed,” Slotterback said.

City Police Chief David Young also was pleased with how the training exercise went.

“It went very well. It helps anytime you can do an exercise like this in real life, with live participants downtown, on the very streets that we patrol,” Young said.

In addition to city police and the SRT officers, other law enforcement agencies that took part in the training exercise were the county sheriff’s department, the FBI, the Pennsylvania College of Technology police, and the county’s Department of Adult Probation and Parole.

“Anytime you can get a group of agencies together under one unified command system during an exercise such as this is very beneficial,” Young said.