News

Drill simulates shooting on Sounder train

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

It looked like any other commuter train full of passengers, but this Sounder car was filled with people only pretending to be riders.

They gazed absentmindedly out the windows or chatted with the people directly across from them until an armed man boarded and opened fire, killing six on the main level and holding the upstairs level hostage.

Blood spattered the walls and pooled on the floor near the dead and dying, whose bodies were strewn throughout the cabin.

The conductor, safe in a separate car, announced over the intercom the train was making an emergency stop at the Auburn train yard as dispatchers called out police and EMS firefighters.

A line of police, wearing protective gear like science fiction cops, boarded the train single-file, guns drawn. They swiveled, arms out, guns cocked, stepping over the bodies and yelling for everyone to get down.

Shortly after they made their way upstairs, the gunman fell in a hail of paintball bullets. Only then were those who could walk allowed to leave the train and medical crews able to rush in to carry out the injured on backboards. The dead were left where they were for detectives and the medical examiner.

Men and women wearing orange vests sat amid the gruesome scene, removed from the drama unfolding on the train car. They wereŽÊobservers from police agencies and Sound Transit who watched how police responded to the massive casualty drill.

The Federal Railroad Administration requires any agency using rail lines to conduct emergency drills every two years. A dozen south King County police and fire departments participated in the simulated emergency Sept. 24 through Sept. 26 as part of Sound TransitŽ’s drill requirement.

Ž“The drill was a great learning experience for everybody,Ž” said Sound Transit spokesman Lee Somerstein. Ž“Different emergency jurisdictions took part each day. A lot of things went right and we learned some things we need to work on. Our chain of command worked well. We really learned a lot about how much diverse information is coming from different sources. We learned how to make sure correct information is getting to the correct places.Ž”

The blood and wounds were stage creations and the bullet capsules were filled with red paint, but police and fire agencies still didnŽ’t know what theyŽ’d be walking into on board the train.

As with all emergency incidents, police ran the first line of offense, assessed the situation, found the suspect and eliminated the threat of further harm, in this case by killing the man.

They ordered everyone who could to walk off the train so a triage team of firefighters could then make their way through and tag victims according to the severity of their injuries.

Yellow tags indicated a person was injured but conscious and alert. Red indicated seriously injured patients ŽÑŽÊthose who were in shock or were unconscious but breathing. Black bands were tied around the arms of those with no breathing or pulse.

A litter-bearing team followed the triage team, strapping the red-tagged patients to the backboards and evacuating them to a treatment area outside, where they could stabilize them before rushing them to the hospital. Yellow-tagged people were helped out last.

At the end, all responding agencies gathered around the train to hear an evaluation of their performances. All told, police caught the suspect and the injured were treated in about 35 minutes ŽÑŽÊa time police officials called excellent.

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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