Ambulances pulled up to St. Benedict’s Health Center Wednesday morning, where Dickinson High School students lay on the grass wrapped in wool blankets. Dickinson State University nursing students bent down to scan the students’ tags as a form of computerized triage before emergency responders lifted them onto gurneys and into ambulances.

In the ambulances, they were taken to either Sanford Health East Clinic or St. Luke's for treatment, or to the hospitals for decontamination.

The high school students were actors in the full-scale tornado exercise organized by Southwest District Health Unit to test the emergency response capabilities of multiple organizations across 12 counties.

They are in either one of the school’s health careers classes or the emergency responders class. The classes often work with the health unit.

“They try to get our students involved in whatever they can for health, so we had already been in contact with them throughout the year with other things. They needed people to act as patients, and they knew that we had the students,” said Sara Rhode, health careers teacher.

The exercise gave students a chance to see first responders in action.

“It’s one thing to have a guest speaker,” said Sarah Trustem, community coordinator for Dickinson Public Schools. “It’s another to actually see those careers live in action. I think it was a really good opportunity for those students to not just hear about those careers but to see what those careers entail.”

In addition to the multi-county drill, all Dickinson schools participated in a tornado drill. In the scenario, cellphones and landlines had been impacted, so the schools communicated with the district via radio.

The practice with the radios provided a learning opportunity for employees.

“We learned that some … don’t realize that when somebody’s talking on the radio, if you go to talk, you’re not going to be heard,” said Superintendent Shon Hocker. “You have to be patient. You have to be careful not to talk on a two-way radio when someone else is talking. You have to wait for a pause, and then you go. We had several schools calling back in at the same time saying, ‘We’re clear. Everything’s good.’ We didn’t know that because they said it when someone else was already talking to us.”

The drill also revealed a glitch in the new phone system of the district’s central administration office, which it now knows to fix.

“We learned that I can push a button and talk to the back end of the building and tell them all there’s a drill or that there’s an alarm, but I can’t do it to the front,” Hocker said. “It didn’t get set up the right way. I’d have never known that until it had been too late.”