Grade: A.

That's how Grove Superintendent Sandy Coaly and Grove Police Chief Mark Morris rate the critical incident drill involving Grove first responders, students and teachers on Thursday, March 29.

The incident began with a simulated car accident at the intersection of Seventh and Center.

Next two letters were received at both the Upper Elementary and at the Lower Elementary, involving a powdery substance suspected to be a bio-hazardous material. 

At the Upper Elementary, Assistant Principal Jeff Gibe opened the letter while he was involved in a meeting with five students - three girls and two boy - in his office.

For the simulation, Gibe and the students were exposed the the materials, causing them to require medical attention.

After the letter was found at the UE, administrators and staff contacted officials on the other campuses. A similar letter was discovered - part of the simulation - in the possession of a third grade teacher.

However, in the simulation, the letter was not opened, which meant no students or staff were exposed to hazardous materials.

In the case of the UE students and Gibe, they were led out of the building by members of the Grove Fire Department, to a staging area, where they underwent a simulated decontamination process.

Mike Reed, Grove Fire Chief, said members of his department are certified to follow isolation and decontamination protocol for victims in the event of an emergency situation.

However, in any situation involving a hazardous material, Reed said his department would contact the Oklahoma Emergency Management Department to request a hazmat team for additional support.

When the car accident took place, next to a campus,  students across the district followed a "shelter in place" protocol.

After the letters were discovered, every campus was put into a lock-down mode. Morris said his department follows a protocol where every campus goes into either shelter in place or lock-down, in the event something happens at a single school location.

In a shelter in place scenario education continues, however access to hallways and areas beyond the classroom are limited for students.

In a lock-down scenario, students are confined to a classroom, items are placed against the doors, lights are turned out and students seek shelter within the room.

In both situations, the classroom doors remain locked at all times.

When bus drivers arrived at the respective campuses, third through sixth graders were evacuated from the school and placed on buses.

The students were then taken to the Grove High School Performing Arts Center, where they remained on the buses until an all-clear signal was given.

If this had been an actual emergency, the PAC would have become the reunification site, where parents could have picked up students away from the west campus.

Morris said the PAC is one of the many locations identified by members of his department to serve as a possible reunification site.

He said in the event of a real emergency, the site would not be announced until first responders could secure the facility.

Behind the drill

The scenario, according to Dave Roberts, Grove Public School safety director, was developed at the request of faculty members and principals, who wanted to ensure procedures were in place in the event students would need to be evacuated from the various campuses.

"I think it went exceptionally well," Roberts said.

Ultimately, Roberts said, approximately 700 students were evacuated in a little under 12 minutes - from the time the initial call went out for bus drivers, to when students were being driven to the PAC.

"Our teachers did an amazing job," Coaly said, also giving kudos to the students, bus drivers and staff members. "Truly if anything did happen, we would need everyone involved working together [like this].

"Most important is how quickly we were able to evacuate the buildings and how well our students behaved."

Testing bus drivers

Part of the simulation involved how fast school officials could round up qualified bus drivers to evacuate students in the middle of the day.

Coaly said she was able to find 15 drivers - including teachers, coaches and administrators - with the CDLs to come to the bus barn. In this scenario, 10 buses were needed to transport students to the reunification site. 

In the event the driver was teaching a class of students, at the time the emergency call went out across the district, Pat Dodson, incoming Grove Superintendent, said classes were combined or students were taken to the library, cafeteria or gymnasium, where they could be supervised by one to two instructors. 

Dissecting the incident

Morris said while the simulation went smoothly from the perspective of the police, fire and other emergency responders, it did show a few areas of concern - primarily in the area of communication.

One area of concern, Morris said, is the differences in radio frequencies used by the various departments. Grove police and Grove fire now communicate on a 450-digital system, while Grove EMS have yet to upgrade. 

Making sure everyone uses the same language when describing things is also critical, according to Roberts.

He said the various groups would need to work on their terminology, so when discussing things like shelter in place, or lock down, emergency personnel would know what school officials mean.

Ultimately, Coaly said, she was thankful the scenario went well. 

"The worst thing we could say is after something happened, is that we never practiced," Coaly said. "This is something we need to do."

Morris agreed. 

"We hope we never have a disaster strike, but if we do, we need students to know what to do," he said. 

In the end, more than 70 first responders took part in the training. Morris said it was "lots of boots on the ground," with people representing Grove Fire, Grove Police, Delaware County Sheriff, Grove EMS, Delaware County Emergency Management and Grove Police Volunteers in Policing Service. 

Members of the Grove Street Department and Public Works Department also took part, serving as part of the initial response team, helping first responders secure the west campus streets.

Morris said an initial debriefing took place immediately at the end of the drill. A more in-depth debriefing will take place next week, as everyone involved will "drill down" what took place to determine if additional deficiencies in the various response duties exist.