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Hostage drill tests USMH emergency preparedness plan

August 12, 2010|By HEATHER LOWERY
  • Special Response Team officers take down a role-playing gunman Thursday during a drill at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown building on West Washington Street.
Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

o Hostage Drill - University System

Two people portraying "gunmen" entered the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown building on West Washington Street as a part of a drill Thursday morning to test the university's emergency preparedness plan.

The Board of Regents requires USMH to test its emergency plan every year, said C. David Warner III, USMH executive director.

A scenario such as the one portrayed Thursday "is to help us be as prepared as we can be for a real emergency and to discover where we have our weaknesses," Warner said.

Hagerstown Police Capt. Mark Holtzman said a scenario was developed in which two "gunmen" would take "hostages" and police would attempt to save them without anyone being harmed.

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Personnel from Hagerstown Police, the Special Response Team, Emergency Medical Services and the Washington County Sheriff's Department were among those who joined forces at USMH to test the emergency plan, as well as their reactions, Holtzman said.

Holtzman said a joint crisis negotiator team of four people from the city and the county agencies had roles in the drill.

Police personnel played the roles of the "gunmen" and various employees and students at USMH played the "hostages," as well as "injured" and scared students and workers.

The scenario called for the two "gunmen" to go into the USMH building looking for a place to hide after robbing a bank across the street. The security guard on duty, Artem Petrov, sounded an airhorn to alert people in the building that they should go into emergency mode.

"I have to sound the airhorn, remember the description of how they (the suspects) look, and get to this room," Petrov said, pointing to the floor in the "command room."

Erin Harman, public information officer for USMH and director of advancement and outreach, said USMH has an Emergency Management Team in place. The team consists of Warner, Harman, the security guard on duty and the Information Technology person working at the time a crisis might occur. Under a real threat, those members of the team are to assemble in the command room, where police and other personnel would take control.

Harman said that as public information officer, she would answer the telephone, inform parents about what was going on and post an emergency message for students.

Mark Adams, of the maintenance staff, offered the police a drawing of the layout of the building and information about the type of walls it has.

With the drawing in hand, police headed toward the "gunmen." They detained one of those playing a bad guy, while some students and employees "escaped" the building before the second "gunmen" took hostages.

Two "hostages" were with the "gunman" in a room on the fifth floor. One "hostage" was let go in exchange for water. A short time after that, the second "hostage" was freed.

Police whisked away the "hostages" and debriefed them. Then they used "gas" to convince the "gunman" to surrender.

Under this scenario, no shots were fired, there were two minor "injuries," and the "hostages" were not harmed.

Warner said information about USMH's emergency preparedness plan can be found online at http://www.hagerstown.usmd.edu.

"You can never be prepared for everything that is going to happen, but we want to be as prepared as we can be," Warner said.

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