`Victims' hurry up and wait

Fake blood and high drama flow freely

July 16, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

Disaster drills are serious business, but they are not without the occasional lighter moment.

Harford County's daylong exercise Wednesday featured a cast of hundreds, several of whom knew how to ham it up and a few who had trouble stepping out of character.

Participants are told to act naturally. That's what Harford Sheriff's Office Deputy Mark Daugherty did, but his quick response would have scrapped the script. Daugherty was supposed to be the victim of an armed robber rushing into the Harford County Courthouse in Bel Air. Instead, the deputy spotted the gun right away and did his job. He "shot" first and wounded the perp.

"I picked him up as soon as he came through the door," Daugherty said.

That would have changed the entire exercise, the last in the day's series of scenarios across the county. The plan called for the would-be robber to shoot the deputy and several others in the courthouse in an attempt to free a fellow gang member. There would be hostages and a barricade situation.

But if the perp was shot early on, how could the drill include a lock-down of the courthouse, action by the SWAT team, negotiations for hostages and a sweep for other suspects?

So a frustrated Daugherty, whose captain commended his quick action, had to play dead and the bad guy went on to produce mayhem.

Volunteers and police, fire and emergency crews were asked to make the mock incidents as real as possible. But they were given few clues on the plot that began in Havre de Grace with a car-bombing of a bus, followed by hostages in a school, a fiery boat crash and an assault on Aberdeen City Hall.

At the bus accident, victims, sporting green T-shirts with "This is only an exercise" printed in red, were made up with fake blood and all manner of ghastly wounds. Blood trickled down Andrea Newman's face onto her tattered shirt.

"I will want a new one for a souvenir," said Newman, a "walking wounded" and recent Edgewood High School graduate who is preparing to enter the Navy.

When fellow victim Tom Caldwell complained of pain, Newman countered, "Don't whine." She draped herself gracefully over the tire of the upended bus and waited for rescue.

Caldwell, a former Marine, had a purplish gash across his forehead, blood on his face and arms and cuts on his hands. He recorded the event on his cell phone camera, grimacing as he photographed himself, the "awesome" explosion and the ensuing fire and billowing black smoke.

"I am going straight to my wife's work after this and take her out to lunch," he said.

Several participants said they volunteered for the acting experience and really got into their parts. Luke Kaczmarek, 17, suffering nonlethal chest trauma, writhed on the ground and shouted R-rated curses.

The language was not part of his script, but he wanted to embellish. Although responders were on the scene in about five minutes, Kaczmarek stayed in character and complained.

"Maybe, if I ordered pizza, it would get here faster," he said.

That might be a typical reaction, organizers said.

"We asked our volunteers to make it as close to real life as they possibly could," said Robert B. Thomas, spokesman for the sheriff's department.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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