Students get hands-on experience in emergency response simulation

Students gain real-world experience during the emergency response simulation.
Students gain real-world experience during the emergency response simulation.

Students put theories and principles into practice when they undertook an emergency response exercise on Dec. 5 and 7.

The students found themselves in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) located inside the College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences facing an imagined crisis – one that tested their ability to respond to an evolving emergency by providing an opportunity to understand the issues at stake and reflect on techniques that work during crisis situations.

While an artificial situation, the students approached the circumstances with a sense of professionalism and realism, two traits that stood out to the Department of Criminal Justice Chair and Professor Steve Owen.

“The students responded very well. With each new update, students reflected upon its implications and how it should be managed,” Owen said. “I was particularly impressed with the depth of analysis, the seriousness with which tasks were addressed, and the mature and well-informed judgments that students brought to the exercise.”

Now in its second year of use, the EOC has seen changes to how it is used during emergency simulations. One of the major changes this year is live-streaming the press briefings so the entire class can see what is discussed, adding a greater degree of realism to the event.

Community professionals attended the event to provide students with assistance and critical feedback into their performance. One of the professionals in attendance, Jenni Wilder ’10, public information coordinator for the City of Radford, worked with the students playing the roles of public information officers in the simulation.

“As a public information officer, it is my job to communicate how to stay safe with the community,” Wilder said. “Making sure the key messages from the command post are being disseminated to those who need to hear them is critical. Through both days of the simulation, I did my best to convey that to the students.”

Screens line the walls of the Emergency Operations Center
Screens line the walls of the Emergency Operations Center and provide the response team with critical information, including maps and objectives as the situation unfolds.

Trent Marchi, one of the two student incident commanders in the simulation, was a seasonal police officer in Ocean City, Maryland, an experience that he said helped his leadership in the simulation.

“I was able to connect on a more personal level to this simulation,” Marchi said. “The scenario felt more real while having that personal experience and helped me react quicker in an effort to save lives.”

Marchi said that his nervousness about the simulation turned into confidence after seeing how the other students were approaching the simulation.

“Everyone's role in this response was important,” he said. “My role as the incident commander only slightly varied from the other students and their roles. I was the first one to receive information on new updates of the response situation while everyone else relied on me to relay them this information.”

The students’ performance in the simulation drew praise from the professionals observing with and assisting during the simulation.

“Every year, I take something away as a professional and use the students’ knowledge to further my own,” Wilder said. “As an alumna, I am excited to see the current educators and students applying real-world scenarios in the classroom. As professionals, we practice these simulations for a reason – practice gives us an opportunity to learn, grow, and be prepared should a crisis situation occur. These students now have firsthand experience with the same, preparing them for their future careers and life.”

Owen said the work of the students stood out to him again this year.

“That’s what always stands out to me, and with good reason – it’s rewarding to see our students take on professional roles, and to do so successfully,” Owen said. “It’s also about the translation of theory to practice, and especially the opportunity for students to blend theoretical concepts, perspectives from professionals, and their own analysis of a situation to determine how to resolve a complex problem.”

Dec 12, 2017
Max Esterhuizen