From the onset, the Harvey County active shooter focus group had a firm end goal. In discussing and preparing for the next critical incident the county faces, gathering input among local agencies and drafting/implementing the necessary preventative policies, the final phase was to test those policies countywide.
After just over a year of meetings, the focus group has reached the point of transition to the outcome phase and testing, preparing to move into that stage by doing a needs assessment at Wednesday's meeting.
Harvey County Emergency Management Director Gary Denny noted that the agencies involved won't know how said policies work until they are either put through a "trial by fire" or can run through exercises on what has been implemented. Across the county, the focus has been on establishing such policies and training in ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) and Incident Command System techniques, with Denny wanting to get a sense of where all agencies stand before moving into the final phase.
"If you're not where you want to be, what we're trying to identify today is what do we need to do to get you there," Denny said.
Between the local school districts and colleges, representatives noted some form of ALICE training has taken place and a policy has been implemented (or is in the works) over the past year, though many indicated there is much more work to be done in educating staff on ICS.
Hesston superintendent Ben Proctor noted his staff has been receptive to the shift from the old lockdown policy to the ALICE model (with more options), and Denny saw that first hand in some recent training in the Newton schools. NHS assistant principal Greg Dietz ran some scenarios through the old protocols first before the training on ALICE, with the frustration from that initial response motivating staff to learn the new techniques.
"It really sank it home," Denny said. "This is serious business."
Government agencies across the county are in a similar boat with policies and ALICE training, but admitted more could be done regarding ICS, though Harvey County administrator Anthony Swartzendruber did note he feels his organization is in a better position than it was just a couple of years ago.
Medical staff may have the most hurdles remaining, as representatives from Newton Medical Center and Prairie View noted the training becomes an issue with so many patients on the premises. NMC Director of Emergency Services Pam Kvas admitted that some efforts have been taken in ALICE and ICS, but there are some serious concerns that remain — like the lack of a strong communication system within the hospital.
"We've come a long ways, but we still have a ways to go," Kvas said.
Getting to the outcome phase, Denny said having these policies and training in place are critical, even in just the initial stage of workshops and tabletop exercises for each discipline — targeted for the third quarter of 2017.
Several agencies present raised concerns about ICS training, with Denny noting the county will continue making efforts to host courses and alert community partners to such opportunities (like several scheduled in Harvey County this summer). Having multiple staff trained and interchangeable is something agencies agreed can only be a benefit.
Collaboration among cities and organizations was also discussed to help prepare for the final phase of the focus group's work, as Denny noted it will be an intensive process working towards that full-scale exercise. While Denny said agencies don't have to be 100 percent trained prior to the first stage of testing, he does want to ease some of the concerns entering the next phase.
Numerous training opportunities remain, both on existing policies and additional measures to prepare for the next critical incident, like the vulnerability assessment the Harvey County government has scheduled. Seeing the impact of the Excel incident in the community, Hesston Police Chief Doug Schroeder spoke to the significance of those efforts.
"Somehow threat assessment needs to be on our table," Schroeder said. "I'm bringing this up because I don't have the answers, but I'm experiencing the problems."
Beyond the initial steps of the outcome phase, Denny hopes to have tabletop exercises with all agencies based on locale (i.e. Newton, Halstead, Hesston, etc.) in late 2017/early 2018 before moving on to functional exercises (without deploying resources) and a countywide full-scale exercise at the end of 2018.
"Let's take baby steps," Denny said, "and we'll progressively work up to this."