Much like families are recommend to have an evacuation plan in case of a fire, and routinely practice said plan, Harvey County emergency personnel and other stakeholders continue to come together in an effort to enhance preparedness in the face of an active shooter incident.
Born of a focus group that first met shortly before the active shooting incident in Harvey County on Feb. 25, 2016, training for such situations has continued to evolve to the point where all the parties involved around the county are now being brought together to test their preparedness — like the tabletop exercise held in Hesston on May 24.
Primarily, Harvey County Emergency Management Director Gary Denny said the exercise was meant to gauge community stakeholders'' familiarity with incident command structure (ICS), ALICE (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate) training and comprehensive planning.
As Denny noted, the idea of the tabletop exercises is to make sure all of the players are "operating cohesively," with Hesston marking the first time stakeholders from various disciplines were brought together in the same exercise (with both the Hesston and Burrton communities represented).
Since 2016, that shared sense of responsibility in being prepared has become crystal clear to those involved, like Burrton superintendent Joan Simoneau.
"It's not us against them, or they do their thing over there, we do our thing over there," Simoneau said. "There's really more of that shared sense that the health and safety of our county is based on every one of us."
For that reason, Simoneau is glad for every chance to get together with law enforcement, medical staff and other key players from the around the county.
Going over the aspects of preparedness meant to be cohesive illustrates where there are kinks that need to be worked out — like individual players working together to help better the team.
"We identified some areas that even though we're so much further along than we were two or three years ago in our response, there's still some things that we need to tighten up, clean up," said Hesston superintendent Ben Proctor.
"Every time we have a chance to run through different scenarios ... we can't be ready for everything but I think that the more times we sit down together and have these opportunities to talk, the more opportunity we have to shore up what we're doing," Simoneau said.
Last Thursday, for instance, Simoneau noted that through discussion during the exercise she found there may be some unexpected issues in communicating with Burrton Fire/EMS in the midst of an emergency event.
Other concerns raised during the exercise included some communication issues that remain between communities and work that remains to get better familiarized with ICS.
Not only can this collective work help Harvey County prepare for a future active shooter incident, but Simoneau noted the crisis planning can be applied to a number of scenarios. Given the instigating event for these exercises, though, the main focus has not been forgotten.
While the reality is that Harvey County and Hesston have had to respond to an active shooter incident already, that is an experience that has helped with preparedness efforts as they push forward with the rest of the county communities to be ready should another one occur.
"You have to see it in practice as opposed to just talking through it or looking at it on paper. You never want a situation like that to occur, but you definitely want to take lessons from it and apply those lessons moving forward. I think we've done that to a large degree," Proctor said. "The reality is we have to be prepared for worst-case scenarios."
"I think we're prepared now more than we've ever been. Unfortunately, we can also say that we are more experienced now than we've every been, which has helped lead to some of that preparation," said Hesston Police Chief Doug Schroeder. "We're so much more prepared than we were and I hope to continue that."
The next community-wide tabletop exercise is being planned for June 20 in Newton.