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Need for emergency plan resurfaces after volleyball incident

The need for an updated after-school emergency plan resurfaced in the Perham-Dent School District after a fan collapsed at a home volleyball game Oct. 2.

An emergency plan was discussed but never written after Perham basketball player Zach Gabbard collapsed on the court during an away game on Jan. 20, 2011.

The latest incident prompted activities director Fred Sailer to put together a longer, more comprehensive emergency plan.

"Unfortunately, we have had a number of situations that we have been involved in," activities director Fred Sailer said during a school board meeting last week. "This is real; this is very real."

Sailer said that until now, the school district utilized a paragraph-long emergency plan printed on the bottom of a responsibility sheet for coaches. The new three-page plan gives more specific instructions for various situations, including home games and field trips.

Sailer said one benefit of the new plan is that coaches and teams can act out emergency situations and assign individuals duties. Planning ahead like this, he added, gives everyone a role in the possible scenario, making a stressful emergency situation a little calmer.

The plan was approved, despite some concern among school board members about a few of the policy's stipulations.

School board member Sue Huebsch said she was at the volleyball game three weeks ago when a fan from Wadena collapsed. School officials decided to empty the gym, which matched the procedure outlined in the new plan. However, board member Jim Rieber disagrees with the idea of clearing the gym.

During the volleyball incident, Rieber said, paramedics had to weave through the crowd - which had been moved to the commons area in the middle school - before they could get to their subject, wasting valuable time. If fans had remained in the stands, he said, this would have been avoided.

There was also a question as to whether school officials should direct ambulances to a specific door, as the plan calls for.

Rieber said in normal situations, emergency responders always use the main entrance to a building. They don't waste time driving around the building looking for a specific door, he said, because they can move faster on foot.

Huebsch said, "In all the emergencies I've been involved in, the worst part is when the ambulance doesn't go where you think."

This happened during the volleyball incident, when the ambulance went to the front door instead of the back gym door as directed, forcing responders to weave through the crowd of people.

Rieber said the longer policy was necessary, but the school still needs short reminder plans kept near automated external defibrillator machines and fire alarms.

Sailer will continue to have the responsibility of communicating the expectations of the school with the coaches.