Inside a mock mass casualty incident

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — On a warm August morning, weeks before kids returned to school, first response teams were tested on their abilities to respond to a mass casualty incident.

Police officers, firefighters and medics responded to a mock drill at Stone Spring Elementary in Harrisonburg. The scenario involved a box truck which had "struck" a school bus while it was loading.

Adults and teenagers acted the roles of overwhelmed parents and frightened students.

"My baby! My baby!" screamed one woman in a panic, to make the situation as realistic as possible.

The purpose of these types of drills is to prepare response teams for real-life emergencies.

School administrators also responded to the scene.

"Our school division responds just like the fire department does and the police department does," said Craig Mackail, assistant superintendent of operations and school safety for Harrisonburg City Public Schools.

Harrisonburg High School Principal Cynthia Prieto also participated by gathering information from students and helping to reunify families.

"If there are students who are distressed, we know to take care of them. That's natural," she said. "If they're on a phone, what do you do? Social media is always — what do you do? Who do you contact? At what point is it okay to contact so that you don't add to the panic?"

Chief Ian Bennett, with the Harrisonburg Fire Department, said response agencies have responded to similar incidents in the past.

"Obviously, we understand it's a very emotional time for the parents and the kids and they want to be reunited with the kids, so we try the best we can do to that as quickly as possible."

If a similar situation were to occur in real life, Chief Bennett recommended people stay away once emergency teams are on the scene.

In addition to mock crashes, response agencies also recently responded to an active shooter scenario.