Getting ready to contend with the unthinkable

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We commend the efforts of  Oxford County’s Emergency Management Agency to prepare for the worst while hoping it never happens.

The agency’s director, Scott Parker, is a master of planning and practice and on Wednesday Parker again demonstrated why Oxford County is lucky to have him at the helm.

About 65 emergency staff, many of them volunteering their time,  including those from Rumford’s police and fire departments, responded to an exercise at Rumford Hospital. It featured a so-called “active shooter” inside the building. 

A shooting rampage at a hospital seems an unlikely event, but that is exactly what occurred last month at a hospital in Tennessee. The shooter there shot two, killing one before turning the gun on himself just outside the hospital’s doors.

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This real-life incident came well after planning for the Rumford Hospital scenario was in the works, but it further backs up the concerns of hospital staff in Rumford and other parts of Maine, Parker said. “We are doing this training because the hospital asked us to,” Parker said.

Daily,  emergency rooms in Maine, especially our busiest ones, such as those in Lewiston,  are dealing with mentally unstable and/or drug- and alcohol-addled people.

“We are preparing for the worst and hope it never happens,” Parker told the Sun Journal.

This is a laudable goal and one that backs up Ben Franklin’s old saying, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. ” 

Parker has orchestrated practice scenarios in real time for everything from school shooters to plane crashes to hazardous material mishaps to mock accidents involving a chairlift full of people at a busy ski resort to scenarios involving a fairground full of people.

In the imagination of an emergency planner — an oxymoron in itself because an emergency by the Webster-Merriam definition is an “unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action” —  you not only have to think outside of the box but very often you need to throw the box out.

Parker acknowledges and well knows that any practice scenario will never perfectly match a real-world incident.

Still, the benefit of these training sessions include improved communications across multiple agencies and improved communications with the public. 

Problems that develop during the course of the training can be ironed out, and the briefings that follow on what went right and what went wrong are usually shared with  like-minded agencies across the state.

This way, a scenario in Oxford County provides valuable lessons for others on the front lines of public safety from York to Aroostook counties.

This type of training also helps build competence and confidence among those called first to respond.

Another related benefit of these events is the message they send to the community that we have professionals,  like Parker,  planning for the worst.  There’s a layer of security in knowing the plan has been tested.

editorialboard@sunjournal.com

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