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Cut cable short-circuits emergency training exercise


The Ravalli County Sheriff’s Office planned to participate in an intensive emergency drill at Corvallis High School last Wednesday. Instead, the whole thing was called off when a contractor drilling a post hole for a sign damaged a fiber optic cable, disrupting telephone communications from Stevensville to Darby.

The planned emergency drill was a huge operation involving the Corvallis School District, Corvallis Rural Fire District, Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital Emergency Medical Services, Ravalli County Office of Emergency Management and the National Institutes of Health. The planned scenario involved the rescue of victims injured by an intruder at the school. The exercise was meant to provide emergency responders and school staff an opportunity to practice plans for school lockdown, rescue and medical triage of victims, and post-emergency response vehicles and personnel at the school and area immediately surrounding the Corvallis High School.

However, when the only fiber optic cable serving the valley was accidentally cut, rendering the county’s 911 emergency call system inoperative just hours prior to the exercise, Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman made the decision to call off the exercise at the last minute.

Hoffman said that 911 emergency calls could still be made and received during the outage because the calls were automatically rolled over to the Missoula 911 system. Although the local emergency call personnel were prepared to handle the influx of calls expected to be generated by the exercise when law enforcement, medical and emergency personnel descended in full force on the Corvallis High School, the 911 responders in Missoula were not.

Hoffman said he called off the exercise, “because that’s not a very good thing to do to our neighbors in Missoula.”

The fiber optic cable was repaired and phone service was restored by late afternoon.

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