PITTSBURG — Two years after the February, 2016 Hesston shooting, Harvey County Emergency Manager Gary Denney spoke to southeast Kansas first responders, representatives from nursing homes, hospital and the city on Wednesday at the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts.
Denney shared his county’s reflection on the preparation and communication which went before, during and after the shooting.
Crawford County Emergency Coordinator Jason VanBecelaere said Denney was brought to Pittsburg to help keep everyone trained, informed and prepared if an active shooter or any tragic event was to occur.
“We brought him down here to give ideas on how to prepare first responders and schools if something happens in Crawford County,” he said.
Unbeknownst to Harvey County, a shooting was going to happen a little over a week after beginning the process of preparing for an incident.
“They found we were lacking common policies across the county,” Denney said. “We had to embrace and enhance responses for law enforcement and EMS.”
Denney said Harvey County learned a lot about managing public information and the recovery process.
Denney shared the ups and downs from the moment the event began to take place, throughout it the hours and days after.
One of the issues included dispatch phone lines being full, and not being able to make outgoing phone calls, except on radio. He said after the shooting, some changes have been made here to ensure contact with those who need it.
Denney said there were some communication issues, as different branches who were on scene for almost 45 minutes did not yet know the shooter was down.
Over 100 people — emergency personnel, volunteer firemen and more — were involved in helping out. Denney said many were from out of town and needed food, lodging, restrooms and a place to get away from the incident and relax.
He said these were accommodations they had to think about during and after the incident.
Denney said over 400 people fled from the building, Excel Industries, during the shooting. He said many people left their belongings behind, including cell phones.
Employees’ families could not reach those who had left phones and the hospitals became inundated with families searching for them.
Denney said different public information officers involved with each organization did not share the same information at times — some information needed to be held or was not planned to be shared. For example the officer who shot the shooter’s name was released, which was to be held for the sake of his family and because he could not say anything because of the investigation.
He said they did figure out ways to accommodate for the many news stations which were asking for quotes, such as one-on-one interviews with a well-known person in the community. Denney said their goal was to push positive, healthy messages after the incident.
Denney said having an Incident Command System, which is like a flow chart for emergencies, and the organizational process of the county’s public information officers helped keep things as organized as possible and begin the road to recovery.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.