Denton Emergency Crews Conduct Disaster Drill

Severe weather drill conducted at high school stadium

Emergency responders from across Denton County conducted a full-scale disaster drill on Friday.

In Friday's scenario, severe weather struck during a major soccer tournament and a lightning bolt hit C.H. Collins Stadium during the chaos of trying to evacuate.

"These types of drills give us the opportunity to work together before a major incident occurs to ensure we are trained and ready," said Michael Penaluna, emergency management coordinator.

The goal of the drill was to hone skills in a worst-case scenario situation, which was made as real as possible.

"How you train is the way you're going to act in the real deal," said Denton police spokesman Officer Ryan Grelle. "We try to make it as realistic as possible so when and if it happens for real life, we're not going to be shocked at it. We can go in and do our jobs like we're trained to do."

To put the tension on right away, the fire department started off with a small explosion and controlled diesel fire outside the stadium. Within minutes, volunteer actors from the University of North Texas and the various agencies with fake injuries ranging from cuts and disorientation to severed limbs were scattered throughout the stadium.

"Some of the fans got trampled on, fell down the stairs; then, just total mass confusion down here at some point for everyone here," Grelle said.

The "injured" didn't always make it easy for first responders. While some were very cooperative, others acted disoriented or unruly, with one even complaining that he was being forced to wait too long -- all reactions the crews would likely encounter in an actual disaster.

Most of the responders were from Denton's emergency teams, but mutual aid came in from neighboring communities such as Krum, Aubrey and Frisco, just like it would in the real thing.

The exercise extended to more than just law enforcement.

The faux patients were sent by ambulance and helicopter to area hospitals so workers there could react. The Red Cross showed up to provide aid, and the Denton school district launched its emergency plans at the high school stadium.

"If there was a real disaster, we'd be out to give support to the victims themselves, to support the first responders," said Stan Bugala from the Red Cross.

Not everything went perfect during the drill. At one point, radios went down, and the chopper wasn't coordinated to land right away. Other hiccups popped up everywhere by design and by accident.

Such hiccups are what the teams need in training scenarios because those things will likely happen in the real deal, leaders said.

Denton police said they take the drills seriously.

"It's always in the back of our mind that we may be the next Boston, we may be the next West," Grelle said. "[We're] hoping that we're not, but if it comes to time that we are ready, we know what to do."

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