GODFREY – Campus and community emergency response teams – including ambulances, fire trucks and a helicopter – converged on Lewis and Clark Community College’s Godfrey Campus Friday morning for a simulated HazMat incident.
“We hold a mock disaster training exercise every few years to ensure the campus is prepared in the event of a real emergency,” said L&C Campus Emergency Management Consultant Chris Sichra. “This year, we were able to include students in the exercise, and give them some hands-on training for how to operate during a complex emergency incident.”
L&C deployed its Emergency Operations Team at 10:23 a.m., and crews began responding to the area near the Hatheway Cultural Center. Godfrey Fire Chief Eric Cranmer, who served as incident commander, laid out the scenario.
Godfrey Fire received a (mock) call about a HazMat incident involving chlorine, in which a new delivery person was involved in an accident inside Hatheway that resulted in chlorine tablets being mixed with hydrochloric acid and creating chlorine gas, he said. Twenty students were reported in the building, which was filling with a heavy chlorine vapor.
Cranmer confirmed one (fake) victim was evacuated from the building with injuries, and a security guard who had come in contact with the victim was experiencing trouble breathing. Both went through a decontamination process and were sent for “treatment” at a nearby “hospital” (set up in The Commons).
L&C Student Government Association President David Crull played a victim in the scenario. Thirty-nine nursing students played the other victims, complete with makeup and fake tears, and then switched roles with a partner, so each could have a turn being the victim and the triage nurse. A triage area was set up in a parking lot across the street from the west entrance to Hatheway.
Katheryn Henke, a fourth semester Nursing student from Calhoun County, said the exercise was eye opening.
“The first responders and everyone on scene went above and beyond to answer all of our questions, including ones we didn’t know to ask,” she said.
When playing victims, Henke and the others wore a QR code around their necks which detailed their health statistics. They were asked to moan and wheeze and simulate other symptoms so their partners would be able to properly assess their condition and triage them. Henke preferred playing the role of a nurse.
“This really enhanced my learning experience,” she said. “You don’t learn everything in Nursing school. With this opportunity, professionals have taken you under their wing and shown you what a similar situation might look like in real life, so you can apply the basics you’ve learned to an actual experience.”
The L&C Incident Management Team used the opportunity to practice their response as well, from sending emergency alerts on campus, to maintaining the safety of students and team members during an emergency situation. A Joint Information Center was established near the entrance to the Paul B. Hanks Dental Clinic, and two student journalists from The Bridge, L&C’s student newspaper, shadowed Marketing & PR staff to learn the ropes.
With Hatheway “shut down,” first responders searched for additional “victims,” and monitored the situation until the building was all clear and the scene was determined safe. In the end, two people were “injured” and one was found “deceased” on scene.
Following the live drill, participants met in the Trimpe Ahlemeyer Atrium nearby for a de-briefing on the learning experience, and a free lunch.
“This was a wonderful opportunity for students to experience a lifelike scenario in a controlled atmosphere to practice concepts learned in the classroom,” said Nursing Learning Specialist Dawna Egelhoff, who was instrumental in the planning and coordination of the exercise. “The objective was for students to get a perspective of working in a multidisciplinary team with appreciation for the role other professions. With the assistance of professional community first responders and the Campus Emergency Response Team, this exercise proved beneficial in accomplishing that objective.”
Sichra thanked the multiple area agencies who participated in the drill, including L&C’s Incident Management Team, Nursing Program, Campus Safety Department, Godfrey Fire Protection District, Madison County Emergency Management Agency, Alton Memorial Hospital EMS, AVEC and the Madison County Hazardous Materials Team.
“I was again impressed by the response and the college leadership/incident management team's ability to support a multiagency complex incident,” Sichra said. “Both I and Godfrey Mayor Mike McCormick are especially grateful for our first responders and Lewis and Clark Community College's consistent effort on stepping up and supporting our community by hosting these training events.”
L&C follows the guidelines of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), which ensures a unified chain of command and reporting structure during emergency situations, especially important when multiple agencies are working together in response. L&C personnel are trained and certified in disaster response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to ensure the safest possible campus environment for students and team members.
For more information on L&C’s emergency response, contact Sichra at (314) 223-5995 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or L&C Public Information Officer Laura Inlow at (618) 468-3200 or email@example.com.