Practice makes perfect – and although local officials hope that such practice isn’t tested during a real emergency anytime soon, first responders in Berlin Borough and Camden County ran through a simulation Tuesday, Sept. 24, to keep all departments in Berlin Borough on top of their game.
Berlin Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Rushi Pandya and volunteer Deputy Coordinator Richard Crane had developed and thoroughly planned a simulation, over the past two months, in conjunction with the Berlin Police Department, Berlin Fire Company, Berlin EMS and more, for the departments to run through the practice scenario in Berlin Park after dusk.
“We want to get everyone on the same page in terms of who would be in charge of what,” said Pandya. “Of course, as a drill it can feel a little more relaxed, but when it’s really happening it’s mayhem … so we want to get everyone used to working together in these situations.”
The situation? Members of the attending departments were briefed at the start of the simulation that the described situation is that a family was playing near the ballfields at Berlin Park that night when two young boys, both of whom are reported to be on the Autism spectrum, wandered away from the playground and into the woods.
According to the incident plan, a man was seen in the playground area who was not part of the group that the mother believed was staring at the children, and the man was noticed to be gone around the same time the children disappeared.
In the first simulation of its kind orchestrated by the Berlin OEM, two mannequins were placed in the woods for the six search groups to locate, alongside clues such as an article of clothing and a personal toy from the boys that officers were told the fake children were carrying at the time of their disappearance.
Lt. TJ Varano with the Berlin Police Department said such a simulation allowed for important collaboration between other first responders that the police department might not routinely meet with on calls, allowing for better preparedness in the future.
“It’s not every day that you get to train, or even respond to calls with those people, so whenever you have the opportunity to respond with other agencies or first responders, it’s important to take advantage of those situations,” said Varano.
In light of the search for Dulce Maria Alvarez in Cumberland County, as reported by various police departments and news stations in early September, Varano said it’s important to note that emergency response situations can be drastically different on a case-to-case basis, but regardless elicit a strong response.
“Berlin OEM has reached out to us over a month ago for this simulation, so it’s a little ironic of the situation that’s currently going on in Bridgeton,” said Varano. “In any case, it’s still good to get out there and actually practice something that we might have to deal with one day, because you can see that something similar has happened close to home.”
According to Varano, the Berlin Police Department had six officers lead the six different search groups, comprised of Berlin Fire Company and Berlin EMS members, throughout the woods during the simulation. Using a GPS location program, officers were able to report back to the mock command center during their grid search through Berlin Park.
Moving forward, additional exposure to using such programs additionally helped the Berlin Police Department with important software that can be used in emergency situations.
“We saw how they were able to work through the woods and we were able to put them in locations that we needed them to go to because of evidence [the officers] were able to find,” said Varano.
Now having completed the training scenario, Crane says the department is able to review the operation and make potential alterations as to how better prepared specific segments of response teams should operate.
However, he says the multiple groups involved, including the Community Emergency Response Team, were able to act quickly and swiftly to locate the missing children during the two-hour drill and react accordingly to transport the ‘victims’ properly.