By Lorraine Swanson
Rehearsing for a nightmare they hope will never happen, area first responders will be conducting a full-scale “active shooter” drill at Oak Lawn Community High School this Sunday, Aug. 25.
The training exercise, one of the largest multi-agency drills in the state, is designed to test the response capabilities of local first responders during a mass casualty/active shooter event.
“In the world we live in today we have to be prepared,” Commander Arthur Clark said, coordinator for Oak Lawn’s Emergency Management Agency. “It will test our ability to respond to an active shooter inside a school, as well as the hospital’s capability to deal with a large number of victims at one time.”
First responders from more than 30 south suburban police and fire departments, regional hospitals, the American Red Cross and the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office are participating in the exercise.
The goal of the exercise is to simulate other recent major casualty events, such as Columbine, the Aurora-theater shooting, and the Boston Marathon bombing. Law enforcement agencies will have the opportunity to practice skills in securing and processing a major crime scene by identifying shooters, witnesses and victims on a massive scale.
“In a large venue, you’ll have people running away that might have information about the shooter,” Clark said. “At a school you could have 2,000 people in the building. At the Boston Marathon bombing, over 800 witnesses needed to be interviewed. This drill gives police a chance to think it out.”
The exercise involves over 100 recruits from the Great Lakes Naval Station that will portray shooting “victims.”
Doctors and staff will be on hand at Advocate Christ to accept 60 trauma victims physically transported in ambulances; the remaining number will be processed and identified by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.
“This will test local hospitals’ ability to surge and treat mass trauma victims with multiple gunshot wounds,” Clark said. “At the Aurora movie theater shooting and Boston Marathon bombing there were hundreds of casualties.”
The drill is being conducted according to a detailed timelines due to the large number of participants.
“I’m the cruise director, we plotted it all out,” he said. “We’re trying to maximize training time to utilize practical skills.”
Clark said that the full-scale exercise is made possible by a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is part of Oak Lawn’s commitment to community preparedness and school safety.
The active shooter drill will begin at 8 a.m. Sunday at Oak Lawn Community High School. Austin Avenue between 95th Street and 93rd Street will be closed between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Residents who live on Austin Avenue and 94th Street will still be able to get to and from their homes. To access Austin Avenue, residents will need to enter off of 93rd Street.