4/25/2008 11:03:00 AM Lesson in Terror: Drill helps Prescott Valley prepare for unforeseeable
Timís Toyota Center Security Guard Bill Van Nieuwen Heize comforts Ashley Nolen, who found herself playing the role of an anxious spectator experiencing breathing problems during the evacuation of the event center following a mock terrorist attack.
Crystal Taylor prepared the middle school students ahead of time for the explosive gunshot, and right on cue they screamed - some involuntarily.
Then they made an orderly exit from Tim's Toyota Center as terrorists killed Prescott Valley Mayor Harvey Skoog and took Yavapai County Supervisor Tom Thurman hostage.
The staged event Wednesday involved 125 people from not only Central Yavapai Fire District, where Fire Inspector Taylor works, but also Prescott Valley Police Department, Yavapai County Sheriff's Office, the Red Cross and Tim's Toyota security staff.
In addition, people from the community, including Liberty Traditional School sixth to eighth graders, played roles as the audience and injured victims.
Councilwoman Lora Lee Nye found herself up in the skybox in the room next to the terrorists, whispering into the phone as she fed information to PVPD dispatch.
"I had a line of sight with the terrorists. At first I was calm, you know it is fake. Then you get into it and it was no longer role-playing. All of a sudden you get concerned about the lives of the other people," Nye said.
The more often the dispatcher asked about the mayor whom she couldn't see, the more anxious she said she felt. Finally the police entered the room and shouted at her to put her hands up, then rushed her down the stairs and out of the building.
"I was impressed with the high level of professionalism," Nye said.
Law enforcement and emergency personnel staged the mock drill to identify what could be problems in a real emergency situation.
"It usually takes a real event to motivate these things," said Mistie Stebbins, Yavapai County Emergency Management planner, who helped plan the drill.
At the debriefing after the event, Stebbins said communication was something everyone identified as an issue. In the Emergency Operations Center at the PVPD building, and also in the skybox on the fourth floor of the Civic Center where the Joint Information Center set up shop, the phone lines did not work.
The Information Technology staff at the police station quickly had the lines working, Nick Angiolillo, YCEM coordinator, said.
"It took 19 minutes to set up the EOC from scratch. We had a few glitches with the phones, which were corrected immediately by IT. It took a few minutes to man the EOC," Angiolillo said. Without an immediate response in the EOC, "you can fall behind pretty quickly," he said.
He likened the activity level in the EOC to a blender. Every time he saw Cmdr. Laura Molinaro take two breaths in a row, he threw something else at her, from bomb threats in the parking lot to six suspicious men in camouflage at the library.
"The Governor called us and was put on hold during the briefing. That's not a good thing. The terrorist called in to threaten the life of the vice mayor. He was put on hold," Angiolillo said.
PVPD Chief James Maxson said, "I saw some amazing things happening in the EOC," and added that Molinaro did an excellent job.
"If the Governor or the FBI calls, we'll get to them. The main focus is dealing in real time with the people in the street. We'll deal with the administration later, and I'll take the heat on that."
Maxson commended everyone for staying focused and on task.
Dick Russell, director of security for the event center, said he'd like to see more training exercises like this.
"How you train is how you will react," he said, adding that he likes participating in practice exercises but not the real thing.
Russell said he was working with law enforcement in Kingman in 1973 when a liquid petroleum gas tanker parked on a railroad siding exploded, killing 13 people and injuring 95.
"You just don't get over the real ones. It's been more than 30 years now and I still wake up at three in the morning," he said.
In Wednesday's event, Russell comforted one of the critically injured victims, helping the young man to stay calm and keep the bleeding from his head wound to a minimum. They waited more than 50 minutes for medical help, finally walking to the perimeter of the secured area.
"Work with me. Work with me. Don't go out on me. Help is on the way," Russell said. Then staying in his role, he turned to a young woman having difficulty breathing. "The police are in the building, honey. They're going to take care of it."
Standing nearby, Lynn Ray, Yavapai County Red Cross district coordinator, said several things she looked for in her evaluation of the event were how long before someone called the Red Cross for assistance, and how soon volunteers could set up a reception site at the far end of the west parking lot with cots, blankets, water and snacks.
"We'll look at what did we do and what did we learn. Yesterday we learned that the vehicle that pulls the trailer with supplies had a dead battery," Ray said. One of the changes she will make is to ensure someone drives the vehicle once a week to keep the battery charged.
"That's what these drills are all about," she said. Red Cross members also set up extra cots at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center where they have an agreement that allows for the use of building space. Yavapai Regional Medical Center provided staff to triage any incoming patients.
At the Joint Information Center, it took an hour and 45 minutes for PVPD Public Information Officer Gene McFarland to find out about the shooting. McFarland was the person in charge of the JIC and responsible for providing the public with consistent information through press releases that go out to the media.
Stebbins said the significant delay in getting the JIC established and the lack of a separate staging area impacted members of the media.
"The sooner the PIOs (public information officers) get informed, the better they can perform their jobs. If we have places for the media, the media won't bother you in the field. The media will be involved, and they will need information," she said.
Daily Courier staff writer Joanna Dodder played the part of an obnoxious, belligerent reporter who found herself forcibly removed from the EOC, and also asked to leave the field command post by Cmdr. P.J. Janik from whom she was attempting to get a statement.
In the IOC room with McFarland were several PIOs including Mariela Bean, Director of Public Relations for Humboldt Unified School District, and LTS Principal Michael DeRois.
DeRois said he first placed his school on lockdown, then he evacuated the students. Normally they would evacuate to the event center, but because of the ongoing hostage situation, he sent the students to Bradshaw Mountain Middle School, his third alternative. The second choice, Bradshaw Mountain High School, was too near the incident site, especially after the terrorists released liquid ammonia that blew in a northeast direction toward the high school.
As part of Wednesday's drill, however, the entire school population boarded buses, drove around the block, and returned so as not to interrupt too much of the school day, he said.
"We want to strengthen our emergency procedures so we wanted to take the opportunity to be a part of this drill," DeRois said.
During lunch following the exercise, Mayor Skoog, his white shirt soaked with "blood," said the terrorists got a little carried away and shot him four times.
"I staggered to a chair and sat down. Later on the police came in and told me to raise my hands. I did, even though I was dead," he said with a laugh.
"They couldn't revive me. They laid me on a gurney and covered me with a yellow tarp. It was all downhill after that."
Skoog said he plans to keep his body identification tag as a souvenir.
Posted: Monday, April 28, 2008
Article comment by:
I never heard of anything like this. What is the purpose of blasting such horrific images into the youth of Prescott Valley? Education through mock traumatization? Are there psychologists on hand after these events to counsel students to prevent them from developing PTSD? Kids are fed plenty of negative images as it is, now there school does that as well? This is absurd thinking, Prescott Valley government is taking way too much control of it's citizens lives. Why and how did they become so controlling? It's beyond excessive and I just pray one of these kids doesn't live up to the saying "monkey see monkey do" and become a future terrorist. Everyone should step back and say wait a minute is this a good idea before the mayor walks in blood soaked into the cafeteria. This is irresponsible education.