CAMDEN, Maine — The sight of police cars, firetrucks and ambulances on Saturday morning at Camden Hills Regional High School is no cause for alarm, according to school principal Nick Ithomitis.
The school is preparing for a simulated crisis drill with the help of Knox County Emergency Management Agency and 16 other local, state and regional agencies. The drill has been in the works for the last year and a half, will last all morning, and should provide administration with a rare chance to use and strengthen its existing emergency plans, Ithomitis said.
“This is the first time in the state of Maine that there has been a crisis drill like this involving school personnel,” Ithomitis said Thursday.
Although the details of the Saturday morning drill will be a surprise to him and other school administrators, he did know that there would be three major crisis scenarios happening on campus.
“They’ll all basically be happening on top of each other,” Ithomitis said. “The likelihood of anything like this happening in real life is not good.”
Schoolteachers, staff, some students and some parents all will participate, along with Knox County FEMA, the Knox County Sheriff’s Department, the American Red Cross and many other agencies.
One of the scenarios will be a simulated bus disaster involving the school’s (fictional) coed rugby team. Others might include “shootings, bombings and who knows what,” said Ithomitis, who added that he wouldn’t be surprised to see a helicopter hovering overhead.
“This is not a fire drill,” he said.
The school campus will be closed from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, for the drill. One group of students who are not expected to take part in the drill will be allowed on campus for a previously scheduled session to work on set design for a school play, Ithomitis said. If the school needs to go on lockdown as part of the drill, those students will have to go on lockdown, too.
The students who are taking part in the drill and others involved likely will sport mock blood and gore and will be taken to Penobscot Bay Medical Center, which will get to try out its own emergency plan.
“The hospital will be doing triage,” Ithomitis said. “And they’ll see how they handle parents walking in there, demanding to see their kids.”
To minimize community alarm, Route 90 will be posted with signs indicating that the events are part of a drill. The school is also engaging in a “media blitz” and will call all parents to let them know.
“We’ve tried to saturate the community,” the principal said. “We’ve heard that these drills cause panic — when all of a sudden there are 10 firetrucks on Route 90, for example.”
The high school’s emergency crisis plan has been in place for five years. While the administration is “very comfortable” with it, it has never been tested, Ithomitis said. On Saturday, not only will the plan be tested, it also will be evaluated afterward by officials from the Department of Homeland Security.
“It’s something that I think in the long run will be really beneficial to us,” Ithomitis said. “For the safety of our students and staff — these are the things that you do. If something really happened and we could maintain the same composure, we’ll be in far better shape.”