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Terry Kelly and Eric Fields of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department give aid to mock disaster victims Chynna Jones and Kyle Thibodeaux. Photo slideshow available at
Daily photo by John Godbey
Terry Kelly and Eric Fields of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department give aid to mock disaster victims Chynna Jones and Kyle Thibodeaux. Photo slideshow available at

to fight terror

Mock disaster tests Morgan’s response speed

By Paul Huggins · 340-2395

Five people were killed and dozens were injured in what appeared to be a terrorist attack at the Morgan County Fairgrounds.

That was the scenario more than 170 volunteers and emergency personnel played out Wednesday morning in a mock disaster.

The terrorist attack tested the rapid response of law enforcement, emergency medical personnel and relief agencies as part of a Homeland Security directive.

It was the largest field exercise Morgan County Emergency Management Agency has conducted. It also was the first drill where participants didn’t know what to expect. That would prevent them from rehearsing and better reveal areas for improvement, said EMA planning coordinator Johnny Cantrell.

Shots fired

The drill started at 9:20, when a gunman pretended to open fire (aided by the sound of firecrackers) on an unnamed dignitary. Stray bullets rained on the crowd played by more than 50 Austin High School Ambassadors.

Within seconds, undercover law enforcement and Secret Service officers killed one of the gunmen, and about 30 injured and stunned people lay strewn upon the hot pavement.

A second gunman had taken a female hostage inside the exhibition building.

By 9:30, 13 students remained strewn on the ground, portraying victims of multiple gunshots. A minute later emergency medical technicians from Decatur Fire and Rescue arrived, attaching tags that labeled who needed the quickest attention.

Then they carried the victims to the triage area where red, green, yellow and black tarps helped prioritize the injured. Two Decatur General Hospital nurses assisted with this task.

On the red tarp lay those who needed immediate hospital attention. On the black, lay the first of the fatalities, Joy Bolding, a 10th-grader.

“At least I don’t have to act,” she joked.

Worried friends

A couple dozen classmates had the more theatrical duty of hounding law enforcement by repeatedly trying to breach the security perimeter to check on injured friends.

That’s where the American Red Cross was tested. Its volunteers were a link between family and the victims, informing them who was wounded and to which hospital the ambulance took them.

Linda Smith, Red Cross disaster relief chairwoman, said the exercise showed they need two-way radios to communicate better with triage officials and hospital contacts.

“We improvised,” she said. “We used our cell phones.”

The Salvation Army also participated by offering emotional support and handing out water to the rescue workers. This included calming the father of the hostage and preventing him from bothering police.


By 10:13 Medflight and Air Evac helicopters had left with two victims and three ambulances had left with their second pickup. All victims needing hospital attention were gone 53 minutes after the gunmen opened fire.

At about 10:15, a couple of loud bangs sounded the end of the hostage situation after law enforcement shot and killed the terrorist.

Patrol Capt. Chris Mathews said he didn’t see any mistakes police need to correct, but the exercise undoubtedly improved efficiency.

“You’re more comfortable when you can simulate the situation,” he said. “And when the real event occurs, it will take less time to make critical decisions.”

Cantrell said representatives of the departments and agencies will meet in about two weeks to identify areas needing improvement. Similar, large-scale exercises will re-occur perhaps every year, he said.


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