Officials prep for massive casualty drill

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Exercise: Plans call for simulated event Oct. 8

By Tris DeRoma

Though the meeting at White Rock Fire Station No. 3 looked like just another casual get together between town officials, it was anything but.


County, emergency and school officials met in White Rock Tuesday to dress rehearse for an event no one hopes ever happens; a mass shooting at Los Alamos High School. Officials are calling it “Operation Hilltopper.”

In October, the school is going to be ground zero for the town-wide emergency drill, a drill designed to test for weak spots in the way Los Alamos responds to a mass casualty event.

The White Rock meeting was about smoothing out the details before the main event Oct. 8.

According to Los Alamos County’s emergency management coordinator, Phil Taylor, the drill’s theme was not picked for shock value, but rather to make sure every agency involved gets challenged to its limits.

“I can’t imagine any other type of event that could tax an entire community to the extent a shooting at the school could,” Taylor said. “So, if we can respond successfully to something like this, then I believe we can handle anything else that comes our way, such as wildfires, floods and any other type of emergency situation.”

LACEM has been working on the project for a year and a half, and Tuesday’s rehearsal is the last one before the final drill. During the Oct. 8 drill, Taylor said all the agencies involved would be treating it just like a real incident. “We will be notifying the community in advance just to let everyone know it’s just a drill,” said Taylor.

During Tuesday’s exercise, officials said they learned some new information that will help them Oct. 8, such as how to establish communication with teachers and students locked down in their classrooms.

“The old system was just to lock down the school and wait for the police to come and take control” said Assistant Principal Mike Johnson of Los Alamos High School. “But we now know we have to do more.”

Though the Los Alamos Police Department could not comment specifically about tactics, Lt. Scott Mills said what they learned was who everyone was, and what their jobs were.

“That’s what these exercises are really designed for,” he said. “They aren’t necessarily designed to deal with anything specifically, but rather to bring us all together to talk and to train, as well as to identify areas we need to work on during an emergency.”