MARTINS FERRY The violence that has struck the nation's schools, particularly the nightmare shooting at Connecticut, has galvanized city agencies to pool their information and reach out to county entities in order to prepare and smooth out a response to situations of mass casualties.
The first such safety meeting was held Thursday night at the East Ohio Regional Hospital. Attending were city officials, the police chief, EMS and fire department members, hospital personnel, administrators from the three school entities in town, the sheriff, a county commissioner, and the 911 director.
Fire Chiefs Jack Regis and Michael Reese led the meeting.
T-L Photo/ ROBERT A. DEFRANK
Martins Ferry Superintendent Dirk Fitch explains his district’s plan during a meeting involving local and county agencies and their response to a mass casualty situation.
He said the Connecticut attack motivated them to reach out and facilitate collaboration among local and county offices and create a plan should they be faced with such a worst-case scenario.
He added that while officials in town have responded to a wide variety of serious incidents in the past, nothing on such a large scale has occurred in town. They have participated in county-wide mock disasters.
He said he is encouraged by the turnout and evident enthusiasm among different agencies with a shared goal. Regis said the initiative will be a collaborative one. Participating entities will share their own plans and procedures and look at the ways they could cooperate when called upon to initiate them.
"We're very impressed with the turnout," he said, noting that schools and school safety would be the primary focus. "The specific intent of tonight is to form a response to the schools, but in a broader sense we could use this plan to kind of develop appendices for our high rises if something were to happen there."
Housing developments and other sites could also benefit.
Regis added that schools are also already required by the state to have emergency response plans in place.
"We're going to take parts of their plans and incorporate it into ours and allow them to incorporate our plans into theirs," he said.
Regis said the plan would cover any type of mass casualty incident, from a deliberate attack to a hostage situation to a carbon monoxide leak.
"Anything that could require a multi-jurisdictional response, command issues, many victims and patients," Regis said.
During the meeting, Regis cited smooth communication between agencies as the first issue to be scrutinized. He noted that in the event of an emergency firefighters and EMTs would rush straight onto the scene, which may complicate a dangerous situation should they arrive before police.
He said they would need to establish a staging area to meet first until law enforcement declares a mass casualty site secure. They would also have to decide when to contact the hospital to activate their emergency plan.
Police Chief John McFarland said added that while the schools may have submitted their floor plans and procedures to the attorney general's office, this information may not have been shared with local police and emergency personnel. He underlined the need for schools to open direct channels of communication with local authorities.
Martins Ferry City Schools District Superintendent Dirk Finch had the district's floor plans and procedures on hand. During a separate interview, he noted the importance of teamwork among various agencies, adding that awareness of each other's procedure could be vital during a mass casualty event.
"The best part of this meeting today is we all get to meet face to face and we can all get on the same page," he said.
Principal Mary Carolyn Nichelson of St, Mary's Central, added that security has been an issue they have been addressing at their building before the Connecticut shooting, but recent events have goaded them. The process of upgrading the doors for added security has begun.
She noted the importance of conducting the improvements without alarming the children.
Sheriff David Lucas noted his approval of the initiative and the value of taking a proactive and aggressive stance in preparing for such emergencies.
Regis added that he hopes to see mock disaster scenarios played out during the next school year if possible.
DeFrank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org