Nathan Uglow, left, a Walker County firemen, and Kelly Holcomb, a member of the Catoosa County Sheriffs' Department, stand by the command incident board Monday during a mock disaster drill in Walker County. Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press
ROCK SPRING, Ga. — As the cloud of smoke begins to grow behind the college building, a loud explosion echoes across campus. A few minutes later, shots ring out.
“A shooter is outside the door, outside the door,” a voice crackles over the radio. “One shooter down at the front door,” another voice shouts.
While students began spring break at the Walker County campus of Georgia Northwestern Technical College on Monday, local and state police conducted one of the largest multijurisdictional disaster drills in the North Georgia region.
“We train among ourselves a lot,” said Catoosa County Sheriff’s Maj. Gary Sisk. “But to interact within agencies like this is a big deal.”
Student and teacher volunteers stand Monday surrounded by various North Georgia fire fighers, police and EMS workers at Georgia Northwestern Technical College's Walker County campus. Catoosa County, Dade County, and Walker County police, fire fighers, EMS workers and volunteers acted out a mass shooting mock disaster drill at the college. Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Safety agencies with Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties pulled resources together along with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to enact a disaster scenario that started with a car fire and a hostage takeover of several classrooms.
The disaster escalated as several shooters strapped bombs to hostages and some escaped from the building and had to be hunted.
Back inside the college’s main administrative building, a SWAT team filed through the halls with shields in hand and assault rifles drawn. An officer lay in the stairwell, pronounced “dead.” Another man at the bottom of the stairs with a makeup gash on his forehead was told he was also a casualty.
Near the walls, several officers stood by, observing the team’s every move.
One of the most important parts of the drill was evaluation, and each emergency agency had someone watching its response to the disaster, said Walker County Fire Chief Randy Camp.
“We have evaluators watching everything,” Camp said.
Many paramedic students also participated in the event and practiced treating the mock patients, most of whom were college students who volunteered, he said.
“We never get a chance for all of us to get together,” said Cpl. Joshua Powell, training officer for the Dade County Sheriff’s Office. “It was a learning process for all of us.”
Training on this scale can be expensive for the different agencies when the costs of overtime for some employees and the fuel to run the operation are added up, but officials chose to conduct the training on a Monday when most employees were already on the clock, Camp said.
The drill probably cost his department several thousand dollars, he said, but officials haven’t estimated an overall cost yet.
Safety officials described the training as valuable because it gives employees practice for a large-scale disaster and highlights weaknesses within the agencies.
In the long run, these drills “could be a major cost saving” to the counties, Sisk said.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6659.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...