Agencies collaborate for simulated catastrophe

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Aug 28, 2013
Photo by: Shelby Harrell The Haywood County Sheriff Emergency Response Team retrieves a student hostage from a school bus that was hijacked during a disaster drill.

A simulated hijacking of a school bus with 14 students inside brought together emergency agencies from all over the southeast to test their responses to a potential disaster.

The disaster drill was a depiction of what would have happened if a school bus were taken over by two men who allegedly had explosives. During the drill, the school bus, which was occupied by 14 Tuscola High School students, wrecked and some students were injured. Eventually, the two “subjects” took the students hostage in the wrecked bus.

The drill was a collaboration of the local emergency management, fire and law enforcement agencies, in addition to some public safety responders from all over the southeast.

Haywood County sheriff officers, the Sheriff Emergency Response Team (SERT) and Waynesville Police Department coordinated to subdue the first suspect, who tried to escape from the bus with students. Eventually, the hostages were released when the second suspect ran into the woods and eventually was subdued.

In addition, a hazardous materials response team (HAZMAT) attempted to stop a simulated sulphuric acid leak from a separate vehicle, which, in a realistic situation would prevent an explosion.

Greg Shuping, emergency management director for the Haywood County Sheriff’s office, said the scenarios provided good training for all the emergency responders.

“The primary focus was taking control of the bus and eliminating the threat,” Shuping said. “And then of course there was also hazardous materials in the same vicinity for the hazardous materials team.”

While the scenarios were playing out, Shuping said another part of the drill was having the Haywood County Incident Management Team on standby to provide assistance.

“That is the team helps bring order to the chaos,” Shuping said. “We come in and provide radios and documentation. We provide the dispatch, trailers and staff to help the sheriff and the staff keep it organized.”

The drill brought together dozens of emergency agencies, which Shuping said was important.

“We go about our daily lives and law enforcement does its own thing, fire does its own thing — until a big event don’t have a lot time come together,” Shuping said. “When you have a big event have to come together, so that’s what we try to do. It takes all of us to work through the big events.”

Jeff Haynes, chief deputy officer for the Haywood County Sheriff’s Department, said the drill had brought in the sheriffs office, Waynesville Police Department, N.C. Highway Patrol, Canton Police Department, Maggie Valley PD, and paid and volunteer fire departments from all over.

He said the SERT team was critical in the scenario and the training.

“It was a joint effort for all public safety emergency responders — not only in Haywood County, but regionally,” Haynes said.

Whether emergency officers participated in dispatch, detecting hazardous materials or responded to the bomb threats, the drill encompassed multiple disciplines to offer practice for each agency.

Haney said the drill had been fluid even though there were many parts to it.

“It gave us the opportunity work together in a simulated drill with components that made it as close to real life as possible,” Haney said, adding that real-life scenarios were critical. “This is a good opportunity for everyone to work together, and it will only enhance the services we provide to Haywood County.”