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Emergency Drill Tests University's Response Systems

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
March 26, 2008

Photo by Perry Smith.

It started with 25 students protesting the war. Within a half hour, the number doubled and things escalated from there. Bottles and rocks were thrown. A fire broke out. Gas canisters were detonated.

The good news is none of that actually happened. It was all just a test exercise played out during emergency training conducted at UNH last week.

For three days, university officials including President Mark Huddleston and Provost Bruce Mallory, as well as fire and police personnel, participated in an emergency training session designed for colleges and universities.

The first two days of the workshop provided an overview on common issues of critical incidents that might occur on a college campus, followed by an outline of the responsibilities of responders.

On the last day, UNH employees were presented with a crisis scenario aimed at testing what they had learned. Creating a mock crisis allowed participants to confront problems that could arise while trying to resolve a real life conflict.

After the initial scene was set—officials learned the day before that students were planning an anti-war demonstration—employees role-played what their jobs would be and how they would interact with other university and town departments during a “live” event.

Most of the activity took place in the simulated command center where incident commander UNH Police Chief Nicholas Halias was in charge. Participants were divided by task: operations, logistics, intelligence, planning, finance administration and public information.

A second room housed the Emergency Operation Center (EOC). For the purpose of the exercise, a model city representing the university grounds was situated in a third room. From that site, emergency responders relayed information via radios and cell phones to the command center and the EOC.

The scenario of the mock critical incident was launched with the report of 25 students gathering in the quad for a nonviolent protest of the Iraq war. As more students joined, the group tensions grew. Every few minutes, participants were fed additional information that complicated the situation and called for further decisions to be made: someone was injured; a chemical canister was set off; 20 students chained themselves together in Thompson Hall outside the president’s office; a fire broke out; 200 students were relocated to the Whittemore Center.

Again, none of this actually happened but university representatives and officials had to respond as though it had.

In the EOC, decisions were made regarding possible cancellation of classes, whether or not to close the university, how to get food and clothing to the students at the Whittemore Center if they should be there for any length of time, and how to help maintain public safety.

During the next couple of hours, public information officers held periodic press conferences to update the media.

Training was conducted by volunteers who are members of college and university police departments around the country.

"The effectiveness of any community’s response to emergencies is not only based in its planning but the level of training its policy makers and first responders have to execute the plans,” said Paul Dean, UNH deputy chief of police. “UNH senior management and campus first responders are leading the way in campus preparedness."

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