The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 15, 2013

A big brawl — with a purpose

Several agencies take part in drill responding to mock fight

By Tim Krohn

---- — MANKATO — For several dozen emergency responders and hospital staff, the mock brawl drill in Mankato was all about serious training to prepare for a large scale riot with injures.

For the college students playing the victims and rowdy drunks, it was a blast.

"I'm a schizophrenic who's drunk and had chemicals shot in her face," said Lindsey Roup, a Rassmussen nursing student, one of nearly 100 college students and others playing roles in the drill.

"I'm pregnant and injured and someone sprayed chemicals on us," said her friend Elena Hernandez-Lee.

The drill, which involved law enforcement and emergency responders from Mankato, North Mankato, Blue Earth and Nicollet counties and Mayo Clinic Health System, was staged at Red Rocks bar in downtown Mankato Sunday. The scene was a large scale fight in the bar that spilled out to the streets, with some 40 people injured.

Dozens more actors, wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with the saying "Operation Disorder 2013," served as the rowdy, drunken young people who's job it was to create confusion, get in the way of emergency workers and generally disregard authority.

Eric Weller, a Blue Earth County emergency manager, told the actors to play it up but keep safety first and never physically engage with anyone.

That admonition was eased a bit later in the drill when dozens of National Guard troops in full riot gear, batons and full-length shields showed up to provide crowd control. A Guard officer told the group of students they could feel free to push back with some force as the Guard members moved to control the crowd. But, he warned, "If you push back too hard, we will push, too. And we've got sticks."

Many of the students took them up on the offer, shoving against the shields as the intimidating unit of troops slowly moved the students to the mall area in front of Buffalo Wild Wings. The troops then began lifting and removing the students, who were sitting on the ground in protest, one at a time — in a manner a bit more gentle than a real-life scene would produce.

Police, meanwhile, were left to assess injuries — each victim had a card hanging from their neck describing their conditions — and work with the few paramedics who arrived early to move victims to a staging area outside the bar for transport by ambulances. Firefighters, who were called to the scene and asked to enter the bar to get more victims, refused, saying they couldn't safely enter the bar of rowdy patrons.

Public Safety Director Todd Miller, who with about 50 other onlookers, including elected officials, watched the drill from the Cherry Street parking ramp. He said the chaos and unexpected circumstances were all part of the training. The students threw a few script changes in on their own, building a barricade of bar stools, tables and trash cans inside the bar in front of the doors, throwing some empty plastic cups at police and running in different directions and circling back into the chaos.

"That wasn't in the script," Miller said of the barricade. "But it's good. That's the kind of things that happen."

Weller said the training was not aimed at tactical training for police. "Our main goals are command and control, incident command and communications. With a multi-agency response those are the keys."

For hospital personnel, it was a chance to test their limits with an overwhelming number of patients coming to the Emergency Department, with a variety of injuries and chemical contamination.

Part of the ER was used for those with real emergency needs, while extra staff manned another part of the department to run the victims through the system. A decontamination shower tent was also set up outside the hospital.

"As part of their certification process, they have to push their system to burst," said Weller of the drill. "This will do that."

Ann Traxler, with Le Sueur County Emergency Services, was one of several designated observers who took notes as the two-hour drill unfolded.

"I'm here to see what happened and what didn't happen that should have and we meet and talk at the end," she said.

She said the ongoing training emergency personnel take part in — she was involved in a simulated school shooting drill in Cleveland last week — are important.

"I always learn something every time."