Mock casualty incident a training tool for local agencies

May 3—Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst.

It's a common adage that's often used during times of uncertainty.

And perhaps never is the saying truer than in the role of a first responder.

Emergency agencies and personnel never know what a day for them might bring, so training for any type of situation is critical.

That was the thought process behind Wednesday afternoon's Mass Casualty Incident Full-Scale Exercise at Foster Park, a mock scenario that allowed multiple local agencies the opportunity to train together should a similar real-life situation ever occur in Howard County.

Agencies on scene included the Howard County Sheriff's Office, the Kokomo Police Department, the Kokomo Fire Department, the Howard County Emergency Management Agency, the Howard County Coroner's Office, the United States Air Force, medics from Ascension St. Vincent Kokomo and Community Howard Regional Health and the American Red Cross.

And the scenario was pretty straightforward.

Avid fans — played mostly by students from The Excel Center and the Kokomo High School Drama Club — were enjoying a concert at Foster Park when gunmen opened fire.

The incident left multiple people killed or injured.

And while the "assailants" were apprehended on scene, a chemical spill from a drum of sulfuric acid in their vehicle led to a dangerous Hazmat situation, and authorities also located several suspicious packages throughout the park that needed to be properly disposed of.

It was all in an effort to make the scene feel as real as possible.

"That's imperative in today's world," EMA Director Janice Hart said. "It's absolutely imperative. Every day on the news, it feels like there is a shooting somewhere. So we're doing our best to be proactive in Kokomo and Howard County to be ready for an instance like that. We have to play real world. That's the only way it's going to work is to play real world."

And while Hart added that Wednesday's scenario was a major undertaking, she noted there is so much value in seeing how different agencies collaborate on scene together.

KFD Chief Chris Frazier agreed.

"It's important to get this as lifelike as possible because we're really trying to evaluate if there are any shortfalls in our response," he said. "If you don't put in the things that most likely are going to happen and treat it as a large-scale multi-agency event, when or if things happen in real life, it's hard if we don't have these things already hammered out.

"That's the overall goal of this is just to see if we can all work together, everything from radio communications to just not getting in each other's way," he added. "... Any emergency is an unknown, but if we can do these kinds of events together, it helps our level of preparedness."

Local emergency personnel try to do these types of training exercises at least once a year, and KFD Training Chief Matt Sewell — who helped orchestrate Wednesday's mock incident — said he hopes these events help bring a little peace of mind to the citizens of Kokomo and Howard County.

"I just want citizens to know that the men and women that put on the uniform and get in the ambulances or get in the firetrucks or get in the police cars, we're all trying to do our best to protect the community," he said. "Every role is vital. Anything that we can do to make ourselves more ready to serve the community and the people of Howard County, that's exactly what we're going to do."