NEW PORT RICHEY — The bus flipped on its side and the driver was dead. More than 40 students were injured, including 16 who needed to be airlifted to area hospitals. One girl had a 6-inch piece of glass sticking out of her neck.
It was the worst possible scene imagined by Lt. Brian Prescott. The crash, which happened Friday morning at the parking lot of Gulf High School, was fake. A decrepit school bus headed for the junk yard was given one last chance to shine — pushed on its side by a tow truck. Students played the part of the injured.
Dozens of emergency personnel — police officers, deputies who work in schools, paramedics, hospital staffers — worked together, carving a hole in the top of the bus to extricate victims, treating them, transporting them, trying to locate families.
Some deputies played the role of parents. Others set up a command post. Ambulances took the faux-injured to Community Hospital.
"Our whole goal was to stress the system," said Prescott, who is in charge of all Pasco school resource officers.
He wanted to see how well agencies did in this kind of a disaster — a bus crash with massive trauma. Bus drivers handle the list of children on board. With that person dead, it made emergency workers' jobs that much more difficult, which is what Prescott wanted.
"Hopefully we will never see an event like this," Prescott said. "But we want to be ready if we do."
An event of this size takes much planning. Prescott said he tries to do something like this every year, to test the system. In reviewing Friday's drill, he said glitches in communication need to be worked out and some smaller needs emerged, such as having more reflective vests and radios.
He said 36,000 students ride 430 Pasco school buses every day, covering thousands of miles.
"We are transporting our most precious resource on the planet," he said. "This is serious business."
He feels good about the teamwork shown by agencies. But he doesn't feel content.
"We won't stop until we have perfection," he said.