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This is a Test (But an Important One!)

SU staff practice response to natural disaster

Photography by Dominque Maryanski and Cal Ihler
October 23, 2017

For a number of SU staff emerging from under their desks, last week’s earthquake drill was only just beginning. 

As soon as the “rumbling” stopped around 10:32 a.m. on Oct. 18, designated staff and administrators representing all areas of the campus, were summoned to their respective posts and given a rundown of the situation—a 6.3 magnitude quake. The idea was to simulate how the university would respond in the immediate aftermath of a crisis. 

One group (some of whose members are pictured below) set up the Incident Command Post (ICP) in the basement of the Lee Center for the Arts. Their charge: lead the university’s on-the-ground response.

Meanwhile, the Executive Policy Group (EPG)—comprising members of the Cabinet and other administrators—assembled in the Marketing Communications conference room to assess the situation and provide overall direction and strategy. 

Finally, the third unit—the Emergency Management Team (EMT)—converged on the Emergency Operations Center in the basement of the Columbia Building. This team can be thought of as the connective tissue—they coordinate the response and manage the inflow and dissemination of communications. 

(BTW: If you’re a fan of acronyms, you’re in heaven right about now.) 

For the exercise on Oct. 18, the three response teams were able to simulate some of the activities that would take place in the immediate aftermath of an event like an earthquake. Out in the field, some staff surveyed campus buildings, assessing them for damage, and got a read on power outages and gas leaks. The EMT conferred with the ICP to gauge what might be needed in terms of shelter, food and water, and consulted with the EPC on decisions such as whether classes would be cancelled and what information to communicate to campus. 

While the one-hour exercise was short-lived compared with a real-life situation, Assistant Director of Emergency Operations Chris Wilcoxen and others found it valuable. 

“Being prepared is a shared responsibility,” said Wilcoxen, who led the drill (pictured below in the EOC). “It was truly important to have our emergency teams come together and practice a response to a major emergency. This drill allowed us to evaluate our capabilities to manage an emergency. Our teams worked together to solve some serious issues. We were also able to identify hurdles that we can mitigate before an actual earthquake. Now, not only are we better prepared, we are laying the ground work to truly make a difference in how we respond to disasters.”

For more information, visit Emergency Management.