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Homeland Security drill puts first responders’ skills to test

Josh Barker played a victim trapped inside the “collapsed gym” at Klahowya Secondary School Monday. Local agencies practiced their response to a school attack with a Homeland Security-funded drill at the Silverdale school. - Rachel Brant/staff photo
Josh Barker played a victim trapped inside the “collapsed gym” at Klahowya Secondary School Monday. Local agencies practiced their response to a school attack with a Homeland Security-funded drill at the Silverdale school.
— image credit: Rachel Brant/staff photo

Students screamed for help amongst the rubble and debris that was left of the Klahowya Secondary School gym Monday.

“Why aren’t you helping my friend?” one student who escaped the rubble pile yelled at firefighters.

Volunteers from the Washington Explorer Search and Rescue program and police cadets played the roles of bomb blast victims and hostages as part of “Operation Alligator,” a federally funded exercise designed to test police, fire and nonprofit agencies’ response to a terrorist attack on a school.

“We’re really looking for our weaknesses, not our strengths,” Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management Director Phyllis Mann said. “Everybody’s being very heavily critiqued today.”

KCDEM conducted the all-day exercise using a $150,000 Homeland Security grant for the supplies and overtime pay for the participants.

Most of the participating agencies did not know the details of the drill, so everything happened how it might if a similar situation occurred.

“Operation Alligator” involved a school being commandeered, with students and teachers taken hostage.

Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue firefighters responded first and encountered a car bomb while en route to KSS.

Police had to take down the terrorists, portrayed by other police officers, inside the school’s gym using simulated ammunition and “Hollywood-style weapons,” according to Mann.

Police officers discovered a group of students and teachers tied to a bomb and the bomb squad was called in.

“It takes about an hour to get a bomb squad activated,” Mann said. “This is real world.”

Once the bomb squad arrived, they attempted to defuse the device.

The outdoor rubble pile simulated a portion of the gym that had collapsed and the county’s technical rescue team was called in to sort through the debris and find or rescue victims.

“Today it’s a terrorist event, but tomorrow the same equipment is used for an earthquake,” Mann said.

The “victims” were transported to Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton, so hospital staff could participate in the training.

“Everybody gets to test their portion of the event,” Mann said.

“Operation Alligator” participants gathered together at the end of the day to evaluate their performances.

“We have a lot of lessons learned,” Mann said.

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