UNC drill tests crisis response

Jun. 20, 2013 @ 11:45 AM

It was silent as two UNC-Chapel Hill police officers pointed their guns at the elevators on the eighth floor of Davis Library. Behind them, in the eight floor stacks, two police emergency squads searched for a possible second suspect. One suspect had already been subdued, and a few gunshot victims had been carried off the floor by Chapel Hill Fire Department officials. Soon, responders would find out that the second suspect was holding hostages in a study room.

The responders were real, but the victims, hostages and gunmen were all actors.
On Wednesday, UNC conducted an emergency drill on the library’s seventh and eighth floors, which were closed to the public. The drill, coordinated by UNC’s Department for Public Safety, brought 47 responders from the Department of Public Safety, the Chapel Hill Fire Department, the Chapel Hill Police Department, the Carrboro Police Department, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and Orange County Emergency Services, said Chapel Hill Fire Department Deputy Chief Robert Bosworth.
Randy Young, of UNC Public Safety, said the drill was meant to help different agencies work together in the case of an emergency.
“We’ll respond as best we can,” Young said before the drill. “The good news is life and limb is not typically a peril in these things, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them.”
Young said UNC regularly meets with a group of local responders to talk about how officials respond to events like the Boston Marathon bombings and the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Wednesday’s responders did not have specific knowledge of what would happen during the drill, which was facilitated by EnviroSafe, a company that helped develop the mock scenarios that unfolded.
Throughout the drill, messages came through responders’ radios, similar to what would happen in a real event. At one point, officers were prompted to check the eighth-floor women’s bathroom, where another victim was found.
Steve Naylor, director of strategic development for EnviroSafe, said that checking how different agencies communicate with each other is a key aspect of emergency drills.
“Communications is the number one break-down in all real world incidents and all exercises,” Naylor said.
The drill involved 11 victims, five hostages and two suspects. The victims and hostages were volunteers; some of them were UNC library staff members.
Meg Tuomala, a 30-year-old female archivist, played a 29-year-old male who got shot in the jaw.
Tuomala, who is on the library emergency preparedness committee, said that volunteers received badges with a description of their role and vital statistics. She was instructed to hide under tables and couches on the eighth floor, and she was taken off the floor on a white carrier supported by Fire Department officials.
“It was kind of fun,” she said.
Tuomala said the greatest part of the exercise was seeing how responders would act around victims and suspects.
“I think it’s really great to allow the first responders to get a little bit of practice, because you really don’t know what’s going to happen in these situations until they do happen,” she said.
All weapons carried by responders were cleared of ammunition before the drill, said Derrick Duggins, executive director of corporate operations for EnviroSafe.
“We have Hollywood guns, if you will, that fire blanks just like you see in the movies,” Duggins said. “We use those guns for our bad guys, and we give a couple of officers those weapons as well.”
The university’s emergency operations center and the chancellor’s executive group also participated in the drill, Naylor said. These groups discussed issues like whether the university would continue operating and whether evacuation transportation was needed.
EnviroSafe had 11 evaluators who observed different aspects of the drill, Naylor said. The company will compile a report, which will include an improvement plan, and send it to UNC’s emergency management director.
Naylor said that EnviroSafe worked with the university system’s campuses back in 2010, and one of the findings from those exercises was that overall, campus police forces were not well-equipped with long guns. Since that time, he said, many campus police have acquired funds for long guns.