Students Test Skills in Mock Disaster Drill

As professional emergency personnel responded to a simulated crisis in a state-mandated "tabletop" exercise in Heth Hall, about 40 Radford University graduate and undergraduate mirrored the incident for an unusual applied learning experience.

The exercise, a capstone activity in the Emergency Management (CRJU 490/590) course, engaged the students as responders to the scenario, which began with a chlorine leak from a wrecked tanker truck at the edge of the RU campus.

"It was a challenge to coordinate things," said Eric Adams of Springfield, a graduate student in criminal justice and co-commander for the response team. "I struggled to strike a balance between maintaining control of the situation and trusting the others to do their jobs. I had to remind myself that they are the experts."

As part of the course, Adams and his classmates earned Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) certification by completing the agency's Incident Command System (ICS) course. Their response to the mock chlorine cloud that forced shelter-in-place and evacuation orders for parts of the RU campus and nearby community incorporated that training, application of the principles of emergency management and experience from in-class analyses of other emergency management situations.

"It is one thing to read about it and another thing to actually do it," said Dustin Edmiston, a senior criminal justice major from Marion who served with Adams as the co-commander. Edmiston, a reservist in the U.S. Army, said the view from the command seat made him truly appreciate the pressures faced by those trying to coordinate emergency responses, especially the recent Hurricane Sandy.

Another student who felt the pressure was Jason Hense, a senior criminal justice major from Jackson, Mich. Hense served as the public information officer for the team and faced the news media, portrayed by graduate and undergraduate students from RU's School of Communication. He said: "Tough? You bet. They put me right on the spot."

As part of their response, the students dealt with the effects of hazardous materials and their containment, the logistics of an evacuation, traffic control, inter-agency coordination, public communication and other aspects of a dangerous situation in a community setting.

"There were some moments of stress and tension," said Stephen Owen, professor of criminal justice, who along with several members of the emergency response community acted as controllers for the exercise. "But I was impressed with the level of thinking and that they did so much so quickly."

In the event's debriefing, event controller Tanya Ferraro, Medical Reserve Corps coordinator for Roanoke and New River Valley MRC units, complimented the students for their communications efforts and ability to work together toward a solution, saying, "Communication is always an issue in any kind of incident, and you really reached out to one another fast and regularly."

Students in emergency management exercise

Students in Professor Stephen Owen’s Emergency Management course plan their strategy during a mock crisis scenario.