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Students Test Skills in Mock Disaster Recovery Drill

Kayla Smith and Eric Reynolds

Kayla Smith and Eric Reynolds, role playing as members of Facilities Management, try to figure out how to deal with issues related to the facilities impacted by the mock disaster scenario

Professional emergency personnel gathered to guide RU's recovery from a simulated crisis in a state-mandated "tabletop" exercise in Heth Hall, on Tuesday, March 25. About 30 Radford University students mirrored the incident for a unique applied learning experience in the Emergency Management (CRJU 415) course, taught by Stephen Owen, professor of criminal justice.

Acting as responders to the scenario, which began with a chlorine leak from a wrecked tanker truck at the edge of the RU campus, the students were tasked with acting as the Radford University leadership team and neighboring agencies and devising a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP.) Making the transition from emergency response to recovery and understanding the issues to be confronted was the goal of the exercise.

"Collaboration was key to solving problems as there was a depth of people and perspectives involved," said Eric Reynolds, a senior criminal justice major who served as co-chief recovery officer.

Unlike their professional counterparts across the basement of Heth, Reynolds and his Co-Chief Recovery Officer Kayla Smith were able to prepare for the situation in class prior to the exercise.  Smith, a senior criminal justice and psychology major from Rocky Mount, talked about feeling the pressure.

students-Emergency-Drill

Students role play the part of Public Affairs Officers as they hold a mock press conference during an emergency preparedness tabletop exercise in Heth Hall.

"We started out not talking and left angry after the first day.  But, today, we all combined efforts to share ideas and plan and keep focused," she said.

Their response to the mock chlorine cloud that forced shelter-in-place and evacuation orders for parts of the RU campus incorporated application of the principles of emergency management and experience gained from in-class analyses of other emergency management situations. The class was focused on the aspects of helping RU fulfill its main mission, "continuity of academics."

In the professional and student exercises, representatives of campus functions like business affairs, information technology, police, academic affairs, facilities management and residential life among others tackled the challenge of resuming operations as quickly as possible. The situation, which picked up on an exercise last year, included several buildings unusable due to contamination, students displaced from Muse Hall, a campus infrastructure that was compromised in several ways and significant uncertainty surrounding the situation.

One student who felt the pressure was Rebecca Jackson, a senior criminal justice major from Manassas. She served as the Co-Public Information Officer for the team and faced the news media. "We were trying to stay on top of so many things and communicate them," she said. "This experience has prepared me for dealing with a variety of things happening at once and I am more confident now about talking before a group."

"I was impressed with the care and thoughtfulness with which they addressed the scenario," said Owen. "Their solutions and strategies were insightful."

Owen said the exercise was the third time RU emergency management students had worked alongside their professional counterparts in the tabletop exercise format and that it was a valuable opportunity.

"These future public service professionals can think through and experience events like this now and they are better positioned to make more informed decisions when they face them for real," he said.

Apr 1, 2014