This is only a drill
Active-shooter response exercise at UH-Maui College part of weeklong training
KAHULUI — About a dozen students and faculty members played being wounded and writhed in mock pain on the ground Thursday morning as part of an active-shooter emergency response exercise at the University of Hawaii Maui College.
“Gunned down” in a courtyard outside the Laulima Building, the would-be victims screamed for assistance from responding paramedics, firefighters and police officers. The scenario provided Maui County’s first responders with valuable life-or-death experience and was just one piece of a weeklong training with the Hawaii National Guard’s 93rd Civil Support Team.
“Hopefully it never happens, but this is the best training we can get,” said James Haraguchi, mobile intensive care technician. “It’s in a real environment, in real time and they make the injuries look as realistic as possible.”
Once a year, the Hawaii National Guard exchanges information and refreshes the skill sets of each county’s first responders. The weeklong tests bolster the relationship between the county’s response personnel and the state’s resources available for assistance.
The agencies included the U.S. Coast Guard, and they met Monday through Wednesday to plan and prepare for the various exercises Thursday and today. Kahului Airport security began the series of drills early Thursday with a “terrorist” simulating the act of driving into people in front of the baggage claim area.
The drills then shifted to the college where students and staff members evacuated the Laulima Building because of a suspicious package dropped by another volunteer. Campus security identified the volunteer, who prompted the shooting in the courtyard and medical response.
“The biggest thing is we make sure we’re organized from the start,” Haraguchi said, adding that the agencies set up an incident command center. “We quickly triage patients and make sure the patients with the most serious injuries are transported first.”
During mass casualty scenarios, first responders use a color-coded system to help prioritize groups of victims, Haraguchi said. The system includes black, red, yellow and green to indicate levels of injuries. For example, green lets responders know a victim has minor injuries, and black is a person beyond saving.
The primary concern is typically saving the red- and yellow-designated victims, Haraguchi said. The black-labeled victims have “no chance for survival, so we wouldn’t want to waste a spot on an ambulance for them because there’s nothing really we can do.”
“Red is time sensitive, but they can be saved so obviously that’s the first priority,” he said. “We made sure to get all the reds loaded as quickly as possible and transported. Yellow, they have serious injuries, but they can wait a little longer and still be OK.”
In addition to evaluating victims, Haraguchi welcomed the chance at working with other agencies on an emergency exercise.
“Oftentimes we don’t get to work with them, so it’s good to see where we might have communication breakdowns or been trained differently,” he said. “It makes sure we’re all on the same page.”
Maui College Security Chief Chuck Tsang said Thursday marked the third time the college has practiced the active-shooter scenario. The Maui Police Department and its Specialized Services Division (SWAT Team) will conduct another active-shooter training at 6 p.m. at St. Anthony Church Center in Wailuku.
“We’re definitely improving each year,” Tsang said.
Tsang encouraged all college students and faculty to sign up to receive emergency SMS/text and email broadcast alerts online at www.hawaii.edu/alert/. He said that, in the event of an emergency, the college would provide specific and detailed information on “what is happening, where it is happening and what you should do.”
“Everyone has a phone, but nowadays not everyone checks their emails,” Tsang said. “But they check their text messages. That’s the most important way of getting notifications, whether there’s a lockdown or an evacuation.”
The agencies had planned to run a hostage situation later Thursday at the college’s old dorms on Wahine Pio Avenue, said Sean Cripps, science officer for the National Guard. He said the situation would transition into the discovery of some clandestine laboratories at the dorms where police and fire officials would request the assistance of civil support teams and the state Department of Health’s radiological assessment team.
All of the agencies plan to meet today for an after-action review, or “hot wash,” that will “touch on some of the lessons learned and what happened and what can we do better,” Cripps said. The group would follow up in a month or so with a more in-depth review.
Maui County has always been at the forefront and very aggressive in trying to learn and prepare for some of these other contingencies,” Cripps said.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@maui news.com.