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'Tabletop' Exercise to Test Emergency Personnel, Students

toxic waste barrels spilled

Toxic material released in a traffic accident could range from dispersal of small canisters like these to leakage of a chemical such as chlorine from a tanker truck or rail car.

A scenario featuring a traffic accident and subsequent toxic spill will test Radford University’s Office of Emergency Preparedness and its regional counterparts on Monday, Nov. 5. The virtual "tabletop" exercise will challenge the ability of university and community emergency personnel to collaborate in response to a potential risk to public safety.

Alongside more than 30 professional emergency personnel, about 40 RU students will mirror the incident and coordinate a parallel response. The students are graduate and undergraduates in criminal justice and communication.

The RU campus and Radford community will not be affected, and no public announcements or alert notifications will be deployed, said Dennie Templeton, director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP). The tabletop exercise will take place in the basement of Heth Hall and simulate the implementation of the multiple levels of the RU emergency operations plan with regional first responders.

Joining the RU OEP and key department personnel in the four-hour test of existing plans and procedures will be representatives from the city of Radford, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and state and local emergency responders.

A tabletop exercise simulates an emergency situation and enables participants on a decision-making level to discuss problems and procedures in the context of responding to a given emergency scenario.  The focus is on training and familiarization with procedures and responsibilities, Templeton said.

While one side of the Heth Hall basement will be abuzz with professionals working out the logistics of a response, the team of RU graduate and undergraduate students will look for insights into the emergency management field by responding to the scenario in its own way in a parallel emergency operations center. Members of the class will be playing roles such as incident commander, public information officer and police, fire and emergency medical services initial responders.

"In the emergency management field, we are constantly learning," Templeton said. "By sharing this experience with RU students, we can learn from their observations and continue helping those who will one day contribute to the communities in which they live."

Stephen Owen, professor of criminal justice, said, "These students are immersing themselves into the positions they will play and will draw upon the general principles of emergency management. The exercise presents an ideal opportunity for them to get an appreciation of the challenges in an applied setting."

The exercise is a capstone activity in the course—Emergency Management (CRJU 490/590)—for RU criminal justice majors who have also earned Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) certification by completing the agency's Incident Command System Course. For the exercise, Owen's class will build its response on its analyses of emergency management cases and incorporate FEMA's National Incident Management System, the nationwide template that enables all government, private-sector and nongovernmental organizations to work together during incidents.

The emergency management students will work with graduate communication students to handle the technical and communication elements of the unfolding scenario.  Undergraduate communications students recruited by Assistant Professor of Communication Kevin Bowers from the RU School of Communication will serve as reporters covering the incident and will also prepare multimedia components for the drill.

"Learning to be cool is the best way to cope with these events, and this exercise will be helpful and useful in understanding an event's incredible complexity," said Professor of Communication Vince Hazleton, whose graduate communication students will be tasked with handling the event's public information responsibilities.

The drill is an annual state-mandated activity and has been in planning for four months, Templeton said. The exercise will also test an operational component of the RU Building Emergency Coordinator program (RUBEC). RUBEC personnel have a defined role in campus emergency and disaster preparedness as they train, drill, prepare building response plans and coordinate education for departments and associated buildings. Monday’s exercise will test communication between RUBEC personnel and the emergency operations center staff, and will provide response information to expand the program in the coming months.

Oct 30, 2012
Don Bowman
(540) 831-7523
dbowman@radford.edu