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Symposium focuses on disasters at school; Overview provides perspective on responding to shootings, violent incidents.

Byline: Jacqueline Reis

WORCESTER - With all the school safety discussions, brochures and preparedness trainings that have taken place since the 1999 school shootings in Columbine, Colo., it's easy to forget just how daunting a task school and public safety officials face when such incidents arise.

An overhead photo of a high school was a good reminder. Dr. Marc Gautreau, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School's Department of Emergency Medicine, showed an aerial shot of Burncoat High School at a symposium yesterday morning, and the difficulties were obvious. The building is a maze of interlocking wings more than 1,000 feet long and 500 feet wide.

Then, consider how many people it takes to respond to a shooting in any large building. Sometimes a 40-member SWAT team needs to call in four other teams of the same size just to go through a big building, never mind set up a perimeter, Dr. Gautreau said.

Consider also that hospitals don't have a lot of extra beds these days, so victims might be scattered to several facilities.

Overall, said Dr. Mary-Elise Manuell, director of the Division of Disaster Medicine and Emergency Management at UMass Memorial Medical Center and UMass Medical School, "It's the kind of thing that the more you revisit it, the better."

That thinking brought the UMass Memorial Division of Disaster Medicine and Emergency Management together with the public schools for yesterday's symposium on school shootings.

About 100 people, including representatives of the Police, Fire, Public Works and Public Health departments, and people from local private, parochial and charter schools participated in the event at Worcester Technical High School.

The symposium included an overview of the incident command system (something CNN is familiar with, Dr. Gautreau said), Dr. Gautreau's lecture on planning for a school shooting incident, and a panel discussion.

Above all, Dr. Gautreau told the participants, know who would be in charge if something happened.

Sometimes it isn't obvious, he said, noting that if a top-secret Air Force jet crashed in West Brookfield, the incident commander would be the fire chief - at least until the president declared the site a national security area.

In Worcester, the Police Department would lead the incident command, said Robert F. Pezzella, executive assistant to the school superintendent for school safety and violence prevention.

The superintendent meets with the police and fire chiefs at least once a year to discuss emergency management; in 2005, the district distributed emergency guides to all employees. "In the era we're living in today, the hard-core reality is we have to prepare for these kinds of incidents," Mr. Pezzella said.

Contact Jacqueline Reis at



CUTLINE: Dr. Gautreau
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 6, 2008
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