Training to grapple with manhunt, meth, mayhem
Several law enforcement agencies and health care providers will participate that day in a training exercise designed to test their mettle when a missing person case spirals out of control.
Participants have been briefed on the scenario and met Wednesday to discuss the details.
“When I read it, I was like, ‘This is perfect,'” said Capt. Kelly Redmon of the Watauga County Sheriff's Office. “This is going to be a challenge. This is the most plausible incident I've been involved with in a long time.”
David Hancock, managing partner with C3 Applications and former Watauga County Emergency Management technician, described the situation teams will face.
In the scenario, a Polish war veteran with Alzheimer's disease escapes the extended c are center at Blowing Rock Hospital. The hospital goes through its search procedures, then calls for assistance when they can't find him on site, he said.
“We already know where he's going, believe it or not,” Hancock said.
The missing man then makes his way to the property off Summit Meadow Lane in Blowing Rock that was recently purchased by Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, where the scenario takes another turn.
The man wanders into an active meth lab in a barn, where the cooks grab him and drive him away from the area, but not before he loses the tracking bracelet that search and rescue teams are using to find him.
“It's been a while since we've used the tracker, and we want to make sure we're up to speed on that,” Sheriff Len Hagaman said.
When the search and rescue teams trace the bracelet to the site, the meth-makers get violent, and a gunfight — paintball gun, in this case — occurs.
“They're not going to be looked upon kindly,” Hancock said.
That's where medics and staff of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System will spring into action. Several “wounded” patients will overload the emergency department at Watauga Medical Center, while Blowing Rock Hospital will handle other less serious patients and practice hazardous materials decontamination.
Once the scenario is under control, time stops. The training will pick up again in Wilkes County Sept. 10, where authorities will expand on the premise for an active shooter drill on the Wilkes Community College campus.
Throughout the process, the participants will analyze how multiple agencies coordinate, how the computer system expands with the scenario, how narcotics and investigations officers mesh and how the hospitals handle an influx of trauma patients.
They will study each step “to see what we did right, what we did wrong and how we can improve things,” Hancock said.
The session originated with Shawn Peele, chief of police for Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, and will help the hospitals meet training requirements. The coordinators have received a roughly $24,000 grant to conduct the exercise, said Steve Sudderth, fire marshal and emergency management coordinator.
The hospitals conducted a similar wide-scale training exercise about two years ago in which the scenario involved an outbreak of respiratory problems and widespread evacuations after a concert on the ASU campus, said Gillian Baker, vice president of corporate communications.
While the incident might sound a bit far-fetched, it's not that far from ordinary for the officers, medical staff and search teams involved.
“Each of those things has happened separately,” Redmon said.