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Police, Fire, and Schools Test Emergency Readiness

(Slide images courtesy of Fire Chief Michael Cassidy)

Holliston is very fortunate to have three departments that take preparedness very seriously.  On Thursday the senior leaders of Holliston Police, Holliston Fire, and Holliston Public Schools worked together to see how these three departments could work together in the event of a ‘what if . . ‘ incident.

The Holliston Reporter was invited to observe the opening segment of the working session.  What follows is a combination of observations and the joint Press Release distributed after the workshop.  The sections from the release are in quotation marks.

“Holliston Police Chief Matthew Stone, Holliston Fire Chief and Director of Emergency Management Michael Cassidy and Superintendent of Schools Bradford Jackson announced that on Thursday, September 26, the senior leadership teams from the Holliston Police Department, Holliston Fire Department and the Holliston Public Schools completed an intensive, 3-hour joint emergency preparedness exercise, designed to strengthen the quality and effectiveness of a joint response to a school-based incident.  Participants in the exercise included command staff from the Holliston Police and Fire Departments, Holliston’s two School Resource Officers, the Dispatch Supervisor, the School Department’s Central Office administrative team, and the Principal, Assistant Principal and Student Services Administrators from each of Holliston’s four schools.”

All 40 seats in the HPD John Johnson Training Room were occupied by the key personnel who could be called on to respond to a serious incident in our community.  Holliston is truly fortunate to have leaders who believe that preparation is critical and make the time to hold such challenging exercises.  Then add to that a facilitator who is known nationally as an emergency management expert in the form of Fire Chief Michael Cassidy – what an advantage Holliston has over other towns and cities in Massachusetts.

“During the 3-hour exercise facilitated by Fire Chief Cassidy, and building on lessons learned from previous exercises, participants responded to two mock scenarios; including a student who had not gotten off the bus, and one involving targeted violence.  “This type of exercise is typically called a ‘table top exercise’ where the facilitator offers an initial set of facts and circumstances and asks key personnel to explain how they would respond,” Cassidy explained.  “The facilitator then adds new facts or twists to the scenario, designed to further test participants.  After the scenario is completed, the entire group discusses the response and how it might be strengthened or improved.  Overall, I thought the entire exercise was a resounding success.” Preliminary segments of the training included a review of the Incident Command System (ICS) and resources.”

Chief Cassidy shared some common language and procedures that all involved in responding to an incident should know and use: sworn officers and civilians.  An ‘incident’ is described as anything that requires a response: accident, medical emergency, catastrophe – natural or man-made.  The Incident Command System (ICS) is a structure that provides leadership and a organization that can expand and contract as the situation requires.  Each incident response has three priorities:

As my father-in-law was known to profess, ‘plan your work and work your plan.’  He did not work in the public safety arena but this wisdom is the cornerstone for efficient incident response.  Every incident, no matter the size, needs a response plan to be executed.  The plan can be written or oral depending on the scope / severity of the incident.  And then Chief Cassidy displayed his ‘money’ slide which reappeared throughout the session.

And then we got to my favorite slide (and perhaps the participants who were needing caffeine and sweets).

At this point I took my planned leave to let the professionals grapple with the challenging work that Chief Cassidy had teed up for them.

“Police Chief Stone agreed.  “This was an intense session,” Stone said.  “Mike [Cassidy] came up with some believable scenarios that tested all three departments’ individual response capability.  As each scenario progressed and became more complex, our joint-response capacity was then put under the microscope.  While Police and Fire do this for a living, I was very impressed with the school administrators’ ability to maintain focus during the most intense parts of the exercise; make thoughtful decisions in real time; and communicate effectively under pressure.”

“Superintendent of Schools Brad Jackson emphasized the importance of relationships and communication as keys to keeping our schools safe.  “The partnership among the Holliston Police Department, Holliston Fire Department and the Holliston Public Schools is the essential ingredient in our joint efforts to keep our schools safe.  Putting the senior leadership teams from all three departments together in one room for an exercise of this nature makes that partnership stronger and builds key relationships.  As these relationships grow, our ability to communicate strengthens, which improves our response to an emergency situation and, more importantly, improves our ability to prevent school-based emergencies from happening in the first place.”

“According to Police Chief Stone, follow-up training and additional exercises are being planned.  “Based on the success of this and other joint exercises, we will continue to make this experience a regular part of our annual school emergency preparedness work,” he said.  Fire Chief Cassidy agreed. “I always have more scenarios available.”

As a citizen, I am very proud that our town leaders are so committed to public safety.  Thank you to those leaders who worked so diligently on Thursday to be ready whatever might happen.

Chris Cain

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