April 4, 2013

Exercise aimed to prepare campus for shooter emergency

By Kaitlin Schroeder kschroeder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FARMINGTON -- Public safety officials led a safety preparedness exercise Wednesday at the University of Maine at Farmington, where they discussed a theoretical five-step scenario that escalated into a school shooter at the university.

click image to enlarge

Bill Delong of the Maine Emergency Management Association makes a point during a training exercise program with Franklin County first-responders at the University of Maine in Farmington on Thursday.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

Ted Blais

Staff photo by David Leaming

The exercise was a good way for emergency responders to network, evaluate response plans already in place, and think through, as a group, what public safety responders' capabilities and responsibilities would be in a shooter scenario, according to Ted Blais, director of public safety at the university.

The scenario was about a student who asked suspicious questions about bomb material in a chemistry class and then became confrontational when police questioned him about the class. Police in the scenario banned the student from the campus after learning he had prior charges for a standoff with police and for illegally crossing the Canadian border. The fictional student then returned with a rifle, detonated a bomb as a diversion, shot several students and created a standoff in a university building.

The first half of the scenario was based on a previous incident at the university.

The exercise emphasized the importance of the school, public safety and hospital working together in the incident.

Participants also talked about the importance of releasing public information in a timely fashion and how to release it.

Deputy Fire Chief Clyde Ross said after the exercise that he felt the event was successful with a good turnout and a good level of participation.

Farmington Fire Chief Terry Bell said he thinks the community should feel assured that the different agencies work well together in the county and that the exercise was a demonstration of that cooperation.

The meeting was considered a "tabletop exercise" where participants discussed the hypothetical situation while sitting together in a room as opposed to a drill where participants would act out responding to an emergency, according to Jeremy Damren, homeland security exercise officer for the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

UMF officials decided to hold the conference after learning the Maine Emergency Management Agency could gather all the local agencies for the session and it wouldn't charge a fee.

Damren said UMF should be praised for initiating a discussion on responding to a school shooting.

Participants included representatives from Franklin County police and fire departments, Farmington Memorial Hospital, NorthStar Ambulance, Franklin County Emergency Management Agency, Mt. Blue School district, University of Maine at Farmington and Farmington public works.

Representatives from the media were also invited to participate and discuss how they would work with emergency responders in the scenario.

Kaitlin Schroeder -- 861-9252


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