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Practical Learning: MCNY Students Participate in Exercises

November 5, 2013

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By: Obiano Huntley

In recent weeks, students of MCNY have actively participated in two Full Scale Exercises (FSEs) put on by the Emergency Managers at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.  These undertakings are focused efforts aimed at meshing theory with practice, and were the result of the Director of the Emergency and Disaster Management program at MCNY leveraging relationships built over the years.

George Washington Bridge FSE

            The first FSE took place on October 6, and saw sixteen students from the program playing survivors of a massive and fatal accident on George Washington Bridge involving a fuel tank truck. The simulated exercise not only tested the preparedness of agencies tasked with responding to such events, but also contributed to students gaining valuable insights into how response and coordination go hand-in-hand.

The accident scenario was unique in that it occurred at 3 a.m. on the lower level of the George Washington Bridge, a situation potentially confusing because response was needed from both the New York and New Jersey sides. It was however clear that a lot of planning went into making the exercise a reality, and that responding agencies are continuously pushing themselves to protect the City. The vehicle pile-up, damage done to vehicles, the use fake smoke, moulaging done to volunteers, and other props made the scene look very chaotic and real.

The first responders promptly arrived and assessed the situation. The Hazmat team, firefighters, EMS and personnel from other agencies did a great job at triaging and securing the site. Under the supervision of the Lead Controller, the Safety Personnel and Controllers, volunteers were directed to make the scene be realistic for the responding agencies, a feature that added an element of realism to the exercise that the responders appreciated.

Lasting for roughly one hour, students, most of whom were participating in a FSE for the first time, enjoyed the atmosphere and were appreciative of the opportunity that was afforded to them. Being able to not only see how meticulous Emergency Managers must be, but also being allowed to sit in on a Hotwash, where leaders of various agencies relayed their concerns and satisfaction with the FSE, revealed invaluable insights about our state of preparedness. Such opportunities which are exclusive to students from the EMD program at MCNY are a testament to the hands on approach to emergency management that the institution prides itself on.

The Newark FSE

            The second exercise, which took place on October, 19 was much grander. The level of participation was greater not only pertaining to the number of students from MCNY who participated (twenty-one), but also in terms of other volunteer groups and the number of first responders. The scenario was based on a terrorist bombing at a terminal at the airport, which was followed by a second blast, and was aimed at testing the collaboration and response of all agencies who responded to the scene.

Again, volunteers were moulaged and were told what their roles would be. Controllers led teams to different sections and first responders made their way through the rubble and smoke, which were obstacles, put in their way to test their ability to maneuver and assess the site. Triaging was essential in this atmosphere in which there was uncertainty about another possible detonation. The first responders were swift, though it was later observed that mistakes were made in how victims were treated when being handed over. These FSE are vitally important for students of emergency management who have learned to be sharp and recognize weaknesses that other volunteers may miss.

The responders in Newark were for the most part cordial made effort to take the simulation seriously; but it was noted that there were flaws in the design and execution of the exercise as a whole. For this reasons, it was agreed that a Hotwash involving students of the EMD Program to highlight the shortcomings, was needed. Once completed, observations and recommendations will be forwarded to the Exercise Planners.

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Posted by Ali Gheith in Disaster Central. Comments Off on Practical Learning: MCNY Students Participate in Exercises

Ali Gheith is the Director of MPA in Emergency and Disaster Management at Metropolitan College of New York.

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