Preparing for worst-case scenario
It’s the stuff of nightmares for every employee that works in a county courthouse: Three men drive up to the courthouse steps in a stolen truck filled with toxic chemicals and a wide variety of weapons.
They proceed to dump the chemicals on the street in front of the courthouse, then, armed to the teeth with firearms, an IED (improvised explosive device), and even a grenade or two, the men stride into the courthouse and begin shooting.
This was the scenario that local law enforcement, volunteer firefighters, rescue workers and emergency management personnel were faced with in Tuesday night’s Becker County Disaster Drill, which took place in and around the county courthouse in Detroit Lakes.
About 90 people participated in the drill, including law enforcement officers from the Becker County Sheriff’s Department and Detroit Lakes Police Department; Detroit Lakes, Frazee, Audubon and Callaway fire departments; White Earth and Ringdahl (Pelican Rapids) ambulance services; Frazee and Audubon rescue squads; and EMS personnel from both Perham and Essentia Health-St. Mary’s.
In addition, there were about 12 people who played the roles of injured courthouse personnel and hostages; and another half dozen evaluators, who were there to take notes on areas where some improvements could be made.
“Our law enforcement took this very seriously, and they did one heck of a job,” said Craig Fontaine, Becker County emergency management director. “The firefighters did the same, as did the EMS workers. It was a great training experience for them.”
Fontaine said that everyone involved did an exceptional job, including the volunteers who played the parts of the hostages and injured victims throughout the courthouse.
In this fictional scenario, the hostage died, and an officer was shot during the attempted rescue of the hostage and some injured people in an upstairs jury room, though all three perpetrators involved were eventually killed or apprehended.
“The hostages and victims involved did a tremendous job,” Fontaine said. “They deserve to get Oscars, because they made it very realistic.”
He also noted that the deputies involved in the hostage scenario “did a wonderful job of negotiating,” and that in a real hostage situation, they would have continued to draw out the negotiation for as long as possible, to put law enforcement in a better position to rescue the hostages.
Fontaine also praised Deputy Emergency Manager Steve Skoog and County Safety Director Dick Goodmanson for the work they did in planning the disaster drill and helping to make sure it ran smoothly.
“Dick has been doing this for about 15 years for Becker County, and he does put a lot of heart into it,” Fontaine said.
Overall, he said, the drill went well.
“Our biggest goal was to find out where we need improvement,” Fontaine said, with the next goal being to meet as a team and draw up a plan of action for making those changes.
“We practice for the worst case scenario,” he added.
Though Fontaine said that he “prays we don’t ever have anything like that happen here,” the goal of drills like this is to make sure that if and when it does, the people who ensure the county’s safety will know exactly what to do.
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.