Local officials say training and coordination is what will make the difference in terms of public safety if a mass casualty incident were to occur in our area.
“Everyone says it’s not going to happen to me,” Sauk County Emergency Management Director Jeff Jelinek said. “It’s going to happen in someplace like Las Vegas, but it’s not going to happen to me.”
That’s the wrong attitude, Jelinek said. His agency works with private businesses, schools, hospitals, and the general public to teach people how to handle what he calls “active ongoing violence.”
At least 58 people were killed Sunday night during a mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas. Hundreds more were injured.
Since October 2016, Jelinek said he has been involved in training more than 4,000 people to respond to shooting incidents. His agency has conducted simulated scenario exercises with about 200 people over the past three years.
Throughout the county, Jelinek coordinates training sessions involving a protocol known as ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. It was developed by a former Texas police officer and his wife, a school principal, following the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
The training teaches people how to respond to violent incidents. Strategies include barricading, evacuation, how to provide detailed information to authorities and how to confront an attacker face to face.
“Is this training going to keep someone from trying to shoot or stab you? No,” Jelinek said. “But it’s going to help you learn how to respond if someone does that.”
Jelinek said it’s important for people to build “muscle memory” so their response to such situations is automatic.
Emergency management officials also coordinate with local hospitals for what Jelinek calls “mass casualty” or “mass injury” incidents. Responders are trained to classify a person based on the severity of their condition, and send them to the appropriate facility.
At Divine Savior Healthcare in Portage, internal committees meet regularly to discuss trauma, emergency preparedness and safety. Team members attend conferences, lectures and webinars on topics such as shooting incidents and other disasters.
“We hold regular drills to test our knowledge, capabilities, communication systems, equipment, staffing and ability to handle patient surges in the event of a mass casualty incident,” said Divine Savior spokeswoman Hailey Gilman.
The hospital participates in group training and exercises with community partners and other local agencies so that their responses are coordinated in the event of a tragedy. It also participates in a Wisconsin Department of Health Services program known as WI-Trac, which helps hospitals communicate and share resources during emergencies.
Law enforcement agencies also coordinate to share resources. And that includes working with agencies outside the area.
Lake Delton Police Chief Daniel Hardman said his department has developed good working relationships with the FBI and the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation. He said the agency also works with local businesses on what’s known as “target hardening.”
Many businesses in the Wisconsin Dells area have areas in which people gather in dense crowds. Hardman said in some cases, items such as concrete planters can be repositioned to create barriers against those who might want to target crowds.
“This county is exceptional in terms of how we collaborate with each other,” Hardman said.