First responders from police and fire departments on Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs were given a unique opportunity this weekend, as they ran through a stimulated high school shooting.
The Village of Oak Lawn in conjunction with Oak Lawn Community High School and Advocate Christ Medical Center hosted a full scale exercise Sunday at Oak Lawn Community High School.
Headed by Cmdr. Arthur L. Clark from the Oak Lawn Police Department, Coordinator for the Oak Lawn Emergency Management Agency, a total of more than 370 people from more than 35 agencies were involved in the drill.
“This was the first full scale exercise at Oak Lawn High School,” Clark said. “We have held other full scale exercises in Oak Lawn, most recently in 2010. Oak Lawn High School was selected because of its size. It is considered a large venue, meaning the number of people and the size of the physical plant, and it was available on the date.”
Police and fire officials were broken into teams to have a chance to experience a real-life stimulated high school shooting, with the help of Oak Lawn Community High School students, playing both live and injured or dead victims in the scenario. Police and fire officials were able to talk with the students, as they explained how and when the stimulated shooting took place, where the shooter ran to and indications on how to find him, using frightened tone of voices and screaming as if a real-life shooting had just occurred.
The exercise began with a frightened student making a flustered stimulated 911 call to the Oak Lawn Police Department to announce a shooting had just occurred at the school gym. Within minutes, the hallways were flooded with police and fire department officials.
Students played injured victims along with mannequins lined throughout the hallways and gymnasium. Shell casings from bullets lined the floors with “do not cross” taping to mark off dead bodies.
The exercise was designed test response capabilities to a mass casualty/active shooter event. First Responders from more than 25 local Police and Fire Departments along with representatives from local hospitals, Cook County, State and Federal Agencies participated in this drill, including fire/EMS responders from Alsip, Bedford, Bridgeview, Burbank, Central Stickney, Chicago Ridge, Evergreen Park, Hometown, North Palos, Oak Forest, Oak Lawn, Orland Park, Palos Heights, Palos Park, Roberts Park and Summit, along with police responders from Alsip, Bridgeview, Burbank, Chicago Ridge, Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn, and hospital and other agency responders from Advocate Christ Medical Center, Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, Loyola, Region VII Hospitals, Chicago Red Cross, Cook County Medical Examiner, Oak Lawn Community High School, Oak Lawn 911 Center, Training Command and Great Lakes Naval and Training Center.
“This exercise allows First Responders an opportunity to work together in a realistic setting with all the equipment and vehicles that would be needed in a large-scale disaster.” Clark said.
The exercise tested the capabilities of first responders to respond to the immediate and long term implications of a mass casualty/active shooter event and local hospitals’ ability to surge and treat mass trauma victims. This exercise is part the first responders’ ongoing commitment to community preparedness and school safety. This was one of the largest multi-agency events occurring in the state prior to the start of the new school season.
Cmdr. Clark explained sometimes the most difficult thing to do in a mass shooting tragedy is finding or identifying the shooter. Police and fire teams were all given the opportunity to locate the attacker acting out the event.
If a shooting were to take place at Oak Lawn High School, the school would remain on lockdown until all injured students, staff and faculty members were cared for and the shooter was taken into custody.
Clark added the Oak Lawn Police Department works closely with all Oak Lawn Schools during the school year to promote school safety through a number of different programs.