By Michelle Marasch Ouellette
Natural gas leaks from a broken fitting. It fills a Beaumont Hall chemistry lab. Someone lights a Bunsen burner. There is an explosion, and chaos ensues.
If it this happened, would SUNY Plattsburgh be ready?
The campus set out to answer that question with a full-scale emergency drill in October.
The scenario unfolded at around 8:20 a.m. on an otherwise normal morning, when Homeland Security crews flooded the hallways with smoke so thick you couldn’t even see the strobe lights when the alarms went off.
Student “victims,” wearing latex wounds that dripped with fake blood, held hands. Crouching low, they moved through smoke-filled corridors, finally spilling into the parking lot and lawns surrounding the building.
While sirens wailed and police, fire crews and the Red Cross arrived on the scene, some of the “injured” sat in the grass and cried.
Other students played media desperate for stories or acted as parents concerned for the welfare of their children.
As ambulances transported the “wounded” to Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital for treatment, public information officers from the college, CVPH and the Clinton County Health Department joined forces to help manage the flood of information — and misinformation.
All the while, officials continued to practice the skills it would take to manage such a situation: securing the scene, aiding victims and helping people stay safe.
The year spent planning for the drill was well worth it according to Emergency Management Director Michael Caraballo.
The college takes part in yearly table-top drills where campus officials and emergency crews gather to talk their way through crisis scenarios.
“We learn a lot from these discussions,” Caraballo said, “but actually going through the motions allows you to really see what would happen in a way that just discussing it never would. You find out you can’t be in more than one spot at once, or you can’t answer all the phones at once.
“We come away from these drills with a much better idea of what resources are needed, where they are needed and how they have to be managed.”
In addition, the exercise helps to build relationships, Caraballo said.
“It’s about knowing who your players are internally and externally and helping us all learn to work together,” Caraballo said.
“The college did well,” said Kelly Donoghue, assistant director of the Clinton County Office of Emergency Services. “In exercises like these, you establish objectives and see if the agency can coordinate with partner agencies to meet them. The college did that and, in doing so, realized that there is room for improvement.
“This is exactly what we wanted to see. It helps us all set up better systems — creating plans that may, one day, save lives.”
For more information about the SUNY Plattsburgh alumni newsletter, please contact:
Michelle Marasch Ouellette
Director of Public Relations and Publications
Phone: (518) 564-3095
Alumni can subscribe to Calling Card by joining the Plattsburgh Alumni Community (PAC).