Emergency response exercise offers invaluable learning

emergency exerciseThe test began a few minutes after 9 a.m. Saturday.

A text alert warned those involved that the campus faced imminent danger.

Sirens sounded. Emergency crews descended. And for the next four hours, more than 200 participants put their emergency training up against a scenario none ever want to face: a disgruntled student threatening the safety of an entire section of campus.

But as this month’s shooting at Santa Monica College underscores, safety forces must be prepared for even the most unimaginable threats. Over the past several years Case Western Reserve’s efforts to enhance safety involve the creation of a university police force, appointment of an emergency management director and application for an Emergency Management for Higher Education grant from the U.S. Department of Education. In 2010 the university won $568,000 through the competitive award program, and officials have used the funds to help support training efforts like Saturday’s exercise.

“The mass response exercise allowed the university’s first responders to interact with multiple, external agencies in a real-time, highly realistic scenario,” said Richard Jamieson, vice president of campus services. “This training experience is invaluable in preparing our emergency response personnel for an actual emergency situation of this nature.”

The session required safety and emergency personnel from campus, local and federal agencies to respond to the mock crisis in a coordinated, tactical approach. In addition, agencies had to collaborate to provide an accurate, timely flow of information from the emergency to the community.

“Safety is, and always will be a top priority here,” said Jason Goodrick, the university’s director for emergency management. “It is vital that members of the CWRU community sign-up for RAVE alerts at www.getrave.com and subscribe to the university Facebook and Twitter feeds so that they can receive this real-time safety information if we ever have an incident on our campus.”

The training proved beneficial for Case Western Reserve officials, as well as participants from the City of Cleveland and other surrounding agencies, including Cleveland Police, Cuyahoga County’s Sheriff’s Office, Cleveland Heights SWAT and many others.

Erica Creech, communication planner for the City of Cleveland Department of Public Safety, thought the exercise allowed participants to work in a convincing setting that challenged their response training under pressure and also learn from each other.

The exercise also allowed campus participants to apply elements of the Emergency Response Framework—the document that defines how the university will manage an incident, and how the plan can be improved.

“Both the safety forces and leadership continue to improve on what they have learned each time the university conducts an exercise,” Goodrick said. “The lessons learned are then formulated into an improvement plan with deliverables, which help to adjust the framework, training and equipment needed.”

Saturday’s exercise was the culmination of a series of smaller emergency training sessions the university has organized over the past year. The series of exercises allowed the CWRU community and surrounding agencies to develop policy, formulate plans, train personnel and take their training to the next level by being able to test their level of preparedness, said Lee Foster, senior consultant at Armada Ltd., the agency that helped create and assess the exercises.

Cooperation between the university and outside agencies made for a unique and quality learning experience, Goodrick said.

“In the context of an exercise, the different agencies form working relationships under simulated stressful conditions which pays dividends later, if a real crisis were to occur on campus,” he said.

The Office of Emergency Management seeks volunteers for its Community Emergency Response Team, which consists of faculty and staff volunteers who will acquire fundamental disaster response skills so they can assist with immediate needs during emergencies.  For more information visit case.edu/emergencymanagement/communityresponse

Photos by Jami Janos, Mt. Sinai Skills and Simulation Center, CWRU School of Medicine