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EHS leads planning for emergency exercise

group briefing

Eric Hodges providing an overview to participants of a campus exercise in 2015.

Nearly a year of careful planning and coordination by the Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) office led to a well-executed emergency management exercise on March 31 at Illinois State University.

The three-hour active-shooter exercise conducted at Atkin-Colby halls, Student Health Services, and the University’s Emergency Operations Center provided a unique opportunity to immerse participants in authentic settings with a realistic scenario.

To facilitate planning, a four-member team with two representatives from EHS (Eric Hodges, emergency manager, and Dan Hite, safety officer III) and two representatives of the University Police Department (Nichol Bleichner, captain, and Charlie Summers, sergeant) was charged with developing a script for the exercise. The detailed script identified what should occur on a minute-by-minute basis throughout the active shooter exercise. The team gave careful consideration to how the exercise would be handled across three different sites on campus, and to ensuring it provided opportunities to test responders’ reactions to a variety of variables that might arise during a real emergency.

EHS also worked to identify and invite emergency management/safety officer professionals to participate in the exercise, including those who served as evaluators and exercise controllers. The office also sought and prepared volunteers to assist with the exercise, including faculty and students from Illinois State—many of whom served as role-players outfitted with moulage (make-up) to simulate gunshot wounds. Role-players not only looked the part, but also acted the part by screaming and running where appropriate. Law enforcement responders donned realistic weapons that fired simunition (similar to paintball) rounds.

The team also prepared the site for the exercise to ensure participants safety, make the former residence hall facility appear as a classroom facility and post signs in the area on the day of the exercise so the campus and local communities were aware that an emergency exercise was in progress.

A total of 243 individuals participated in the exercise, including faculty, staff and students from Illinois State as well as representatives from McLean County government, fire and police office departments from the Town of Normal and city of Bloomington, and the Illinois State Police. Ninety of the participants were first responders (e.g., members of SWAT teams, hostage negotiators, paramedics, police officers). Individuals from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the University of Illinois served as evaluators of the exercise.

The University received positive feedback from the individuals who were present on the day of the exercise. Dan Smith, from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) commented that ISUPD “Sergeant (Peasley) that served as Incident Commander for this exercise displayed a high degree of professionalism.”

According to Gene Felchner, the state’s training officer for IEMA, the Incident Management Team that gathered at the Emergency Operations Center “functioned with a high level of interaction and cooperation. This was a great first step in developing a long-term process that will allow ISU to effectively manage future events of all sizes.”

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