Emergency drill tests campus readiness

Until recent years, preparing for an emergency on Union College’s campus meant making sure everybody could find the tornado shelter in each building and the best exit in case of fire. But as more violence happens on educational campuses across the country each year—even Adventist campuses, no school can continue to ignore the threat of violence against students or employees.

Last school year, the Union College crisis response team rewrote the campus crises response plan to help the school better handle a wider variety of emergencies—both natural and human. After training and regular tornado and fire drills over the last several months, Union held a campus-wide emergency drill to test all phases of response from students, employees and local rescue and law enforcement.

Today, students and staff in Union’s unique emergency response degree program, International Rescue and Relief, simulated an incident on campus in which a non-student shot his student girlfriend and several witnesses. The scenario was scripted by the Disaster Management and Terrorism class, and students from three classes helped administer the drill—as actors, as responders and as observers.

“Although Union College has a good response plan in place, having to apply it an real situation helps people understand it, which minimizes panic during a real situation” said Rick Young, director of the IRR program who orchestrated the drill with his students. Young spent more than 20 years as a police officer in Greater Los Angeles, and understands how preparation can make all the difference in a crisis. “When an organization is prepared, employees react more quickly and effectively. That reaction saves lives when the unthinkable happens.”

Documentation of the response and follow up is as important as the drill itself. “This is a class project which helps IRR students learn to prepare for emergencies,” said Young. “The students documented campus response during the drill. Now we will analyze what happened and find ways to improve.”

Emergency drills also prove useful for local law enforcement. “When we did a smaller drill last school year, someone called the fire department,” said Young. “When they arrived and discovered we were conducting a drill, they asked if they could be involved next time. For this drill, both the fire and police departments planned a full-scale response to our emergency to give officers a chance to practice for a situation that thankfully doesn’t happen often in Lincoln.”

A large-scale emergency drill disrupts the work and class schedule for everyone on campus, but school administrators believe good preparation is worth a little bit of inconvenience. “The safety of our students and employees is our top priority,” explained Linda Becker, Vice President for Student Services and chair of the crisis response team. “This drill is a practical learning experience, not just for our IRR students, but for everyone. We never know when we might be confronted with an emergency situation, and learning how to deal with crisis is an important part of being prepared for life.”