Fake emergency tests officials' training
If you had the right police scanner, you may have heard chatter about bombs, hostages and victims in Caldwell County on Friday afternoon.
There were no real victims, only actors playing roles in a disaster drill at the Caldwell County Health and Human Resources building on Morganton Boulevard. The exercise was funded by a $35,000 Homeland Security grant and involved personnel from area emergency management, fire, rescue and law enforcement from across the region, including Wilkes, Alexander, Avery, Watauga and Mitchell counties. Caldwell Memorial Hospital also participated in the exercise.
The exercise was held to test emergency response abilities and assess the Caldwell County’s program of planning, training and preparedness in case of a real emergency. The exercise involved all county employees of social services, the health department, planning department, environmental health, building and inspections, and the Lenoir office of N.C. Rep. Mark Meadows, all housed within the complex.
The building was cleared out Friday morning. Employees played victims during the exercise. Those involved were not told of the exact scenario until the first scanner call came in just after 1 p.m.
“All Lenoir City units, shots fired, DSS building, 2345 Morganton Boulevard,” the initial call stated. Seconds later, a special tactical unit from the neighboring sheriff’s office responded, establishing a perimeter and gaining entry into the building. Armed with bulletproof vests and automatic weapons, they entered the rear entrance of the building and slowly cleared the floors.
But not before encountering gunshots, two shooters, improvised bombs and multiple victims.
Other agencies began arriving. The N.C. Highway Patrol set up outside the parking lot. Ambulances rolled in to stage a triage area nearby. Soon, the victims began to file out, some covered in fake blood and wounds.
One victim was Jami Bentley, the county’s health preparedness coordinator. She was on the third floor, wounded from a gunshot.
“We’ve been trained by the sheriff’s office in lock-down procedures in active-shooter situations such as this,” she said afterward. “This tests what we’ve been trained to do, and is a great way to see how the response will be.”
There were 33 victims in all. By 3 p.m., the scene was secured.
Evaluating the exercise were members of the Specialized Consulting Service of Shelby.
“We will be evaluating incident command, unified command, law enforcement response, triage treatment, and transportation,” said Roland Hamrick, project manager.
Similar drills were conducted over the past two years. In 2011, a drill involved a tornado hitting the Hudson area, and last year a drill involved a gunman at Oak Hill Elementary School.