During a disaster drill on Friday, the Trousdale County Sheriff’s Department paid a visit to the Trousdale County Senior Center.
The senior center has four fire drills and one disaster drill each year as required by their funding source. Though the center works with its members on preparedness, the drills are never announced to the members in advance in order to simulate an actual event.
“When we get new members, we talk about everything in a class ... know your neighbors, know your exits, know the situation,” said Trousdale County Senior Center Director Ginny Gregory. “We talk about it a lot during the year. Then, we act on it one time in the year. It’s a good drill.
“We’ve teamed up with the EMS (emergency medical services) and with the ambulance department in the past, and of course the police department. We try to keep partnerships. I contact them, and they come up with a scenario. Then, they will come in and let me know the scenario and when they’re going to do it. They take care of most everything.”
Friday’s scenario simulated a hostage situation. Trousdale County Jail Administrator Josh Scruggs played the part of the perpetrator, and dispatcher Lori Pitman played the part of the victim. Pitman ran into the senior center with Scruggs close behind as he took her hostage.
In response to the simulated crisis, the senior center members — who were in the middle of an exercise class — calmly responded and immediately got themselves to safety.
“They were evacuating when I arrived on the scene, which was great,” said Trousdale County Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Basford. “I thought we were going to have to go in and conceal them to get everybody out. They (the senior center members) rolled out as soon as they (the perpetrator and the victim) ran in, so that is perfect. That was a good drill.
“When you have a hostage situation, it’s hard to press. The initial officers to get there would talk to him (the perpetrator), try to calm him down, and talk him out before a barricade or anything like that could happen. That would be the best possible scenario. (In this simulated scenario), if it would have gotten drawn out, and we wouldn’t have been able to talk him out, we would step back, kept our eyes on him, and then call in the Special (Emergency) Response Team (S.E.R.T.) and put a plan together.”
In the case of an actual hostage situation, a 911 dispatcher would likely be the first point of contact.
“We go to training every year on victims who are in that situation and the specific questions we (the dispatchers) need to ask,” said Pitman. “We want to find out where they are, and if we can, find out the weapon (that’s being used), the relationship between the people, what they are driving, and so forth. We are their lifeline (as the first point of contact).”
As practice makes perfect, routine disaster drills provide experience and understanding for all involved, allowing quick and deliberate responses and increasing the chances of the best possible outcome.