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Emergency exercise delivers rapid response

The full-scale drill, which included local, state and federal emergency responders, simulated an explosion with a release of hazardous materials in and around Clark Hall on the South Campus. Photos: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

By MICHAEL ANDREI

Published July 20, 2017

“One of our goals is to practice and make mistakes when lives aren’t at stake.”
Jay Roorbach, senior emergency planning coordinator
UB Emergency Management

UB’s emergency management department, in collaboration with several university units and local, state and federal emergency responders, delivered a rapid and effective response and recovery to a full-scale campus emergency exercise.

The exercise took place from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and simulated an explosion with a release of hazardous materials in and around Clark Hall on the South Campus.

For the exercise, Emergency Management collaborated with the UB Incident Management Team; University Police; Environment, Health and Safety; Student Life; University Communications, the School of Dental Medicine and the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

“For UB to have staged an emergency exercise of this scale, gathering such a wide-ranging group of agencies to work together at the university, is a big win for UB and the community” said Jay Roorbach, senior emergency planning coordinator.

Roorbach extended his thanks to members of the newly formed UB Incident Management Team, a group of senior leaders who coordinate resource management at the university level on a wide range of critical issues during a crisis. “The role they play is vital to the success of emergency planning at UB,” he said.

Roorbach also extended a thank you to members of the Emergency Operations Center, which he call a “new and important addition to UB’s crisis communication planning.” The EOC was headed by Joe Raab, director of Environment, Health and Safety, who led about 40 individuals from across the university in their response to the exercise.

Roorbach noted the key role that EHS’ expertise and deep experience in managing hazmat emergencies plays in UB crisis-response planning.  

“The more a plan is practiced and stakeholders are trained on the correct procedures, the more effectively they will be able to act before, during and after an emergency to save lives and lessen the impact on life and property,” he said.

“One of our goals is to practice and make mistakes when lives aren’t at stake.”

Roorbach said this was the first time many of the responders had met and worked together on an exercise this complex.

“The exercise met our goal of increasing the ability of UB departments and community agencies to work cooperatively and in close coordination with each other,” he said.

“We had close to 200 participants in the exercise. Not only did every agency that signed on to work with us show up, many of them brought additional emergency responders, observers, actor/volunteers and also representatives of state agencies.

“Such a strong turnout made a big difference in our ability to continue building partnerships and strengthening multi-agency coordination,” Roorbach said. “I want to extend my sincere thanks to everyone who participated.”

Joshua B. Sticht, deputy chief of University Police who served as a senior controller of the exercise, said one of the things that has been learned from conducting emergency exercises is how important it is to involve all emergency-service partners.

“It is critically important for us to know what the emergency responders and firefighters expect out of us, and that we have a good idea of what they are going to be able to do, as well,” he said.

“As a result, I feel we are gaining a better understanding that will help us to continue collaborating and working together for everyone’s benefit.”

Participating agencies included Kaleida Health, Buffalo Fire and Police departments, Erie County Emergency Services, Erie County Sheriff’s Office, Town of Amherst Emergency Services, Erie County Department of Health, Erie County Specialized Medical Assistance Response Team (SMART), FBI, SUNY central administration and New York State agencies.

EMS responders set up a safe triage site and conducted pre-hospital care of victims at the scene, portrayed by actor volunteers in full makeup depicting mock injuries and wounds.

The “injured” were transported by Buffalo Fire Department vehicles to Buffalo General Medical Center, where students and staff were met by members of UB’s Student Life Hospital Team, Roorbach said.

The Student Life Hospital Team provides a crucial resource to the friends and families of UB students experiencing a health emergency who are transported to a local hospital, said Tom Tiberi, UB director of campus life.

“As part of our emergency-management plan, Student Life also serves as liaisons to hospital staff with students, families and the university,” he said.

Tiberi explained that when a student is hospitalized with a health emergency, communication with family members is vital. “Our team members maintain communication and provide emotional support to a student until family members or friends can arrive. Team members also provide support for families as needed,” he said.

“The use of a realistic scenario, including actors playing the roles of injured students and staff, provided a valuable opportunity to improve how we support members of the UB community who are injured in a campus crisis. We learned a lot.”

Tiberi added the exercise also afforded an opportunity for Student Life staff to test how quickly the university’s call center can be set up.

Working in close coordination with campus departments and outside responders during a crisis is also a key component of University Communications’ emergency planning.

“During the exercise, University Communications worked together with public information officers from participating outside agencies to develop a mutual public information strategy,” said John DellaContrada, UB associate vice president for media relations and stakeholder communications.   

“Keeping UB students, concerned parents, faculty and staff, and other stakeholders informed with accurate, up-to-date information during a major emergency is a top priority for the university,” he said.

“Being part of the exercise provided a valuable opportunity to expand our partnerships and work with university leadership to execute and test UB’s crisis-communications plan.”

University Communications staff also reviewed team assignments, coordinating responses to both traditional and social media, and managing departmental resources during an actual incident. About 25 staff members took part in the exercise.

As the exercise progressed, the School of Dental Medicine received a “shelter-in-place” order following an alert that a detonation had occurred on the South Campus and a potentially hazardous cloud was heading toward the school, said Stephen P. Colombo, facilities planning and management officer at the dental school. The school’s Disaster Management Team met in response.

“Among key discussion points for us were stabilizing critical functions, minimizing health and safety threats, and effectively restoring and revitalizing systems and operations,” Colombo said.   

“The outcomes and suggestions will serve as both a reference and an action plan for improving our response to an emergency situation.”

Wednesday’s emergency exercise also broke new ground with a test of autonomous drone technology developed by UB engineers.  

“In the exercise we were able to test surveillance by a UAV — an unmanned aerial vehicle — and demonstrate their advantages for use in emergency response,” said Souma Chowdhury, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.  

“A UAV can reach areas of an emergency that might be critical, but could be difficult or dangerous to access,” Chowdhury said. “In this hazmat scenario, a drone could have been sent to the area where a chemical or other toxic substance had been spilled, with limited access for even emergency responders.”

Emergency responders from several agencies who were observing the drones’ flights told Chowdhury they would like to see a further demonstration of UAV capabilities.