2011-12-08 / Schools

Simulated disaster at CLU helps ready response teams

Exercise funded by federal grant
By Anna Bitong


GETTING PREPPED—Battalion Chief Steve Francis, center left, goes over details with members of his team on Monday during a major emergency exercise at California Lutheran University. The full-scale exercise, which revolved around the release of mustard gas in the science center, involved student actors, firefighters and hazmat teams. 
WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers GETTING PREPPED—Battalion Chief Steve Francis, center left, goes over details with members of his team on Monday during a major emergency exercise at California Lutheran University. The full-scale exercise, which revolved around the release of mustard gas in the science center, involved student actors, firefighters and hazmat teams. WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers Toxic fumes forced a hasty evacuation of a Cal Lutheran University chemistry class during an emergency exercise Dec. 5.

The simulated disaster seemed real: Student Jeremy Hanna wore an oxygen mask; yellow tape circled the deserted Ahmanson Science Center; fire engines and ambulances crowded campus parking lots and pathways.

Fred Miller, CLU’s director of safety and security, had asked fire officials to conduct the exercise in preparation for future emergencies.

The five-hour drill was funded by a 2009 Urban Area Security Initiative grant, which can also be used to purchase emergency equipment and provide hazardous materials response training.


READY FOR ANYTHING— Derek Harper and Edward Grap, members of the Regional Hazmat Team of Ventura County, suit up on Dec. 5 before the start of a disaster response exercise on the campus of CLU in T.O. 
WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers READY FOR ANYTHING— Derek Harper and Edward Grap, members of the Regional Hazmat Team of Ventura County, suit up on Dec. 5 before the start of a disaster response exercise on the campus of CLU in T.O. WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers Participating in the exercise were students acting as victims and about 60 personnel from CLU, Ventura County Fire Department, Ventura City Fire Department, Oxnard Fire Department, Ventura County Federal Fire Department, American Medical Response, Ventura County Environmental Health Division, Ventura County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services and Thousand Oaks Police Department.

The simulation included twists and turns for CLU staff and emergency responders, most of whom had not been told how the disaster would unfold.

What began as a medical call from Hanna soon involved additional patients, hazardous materials and a crime scene.

An alarm blared while students filed out of the science center around 9: 30 a. m. Ten students in the evacuated class feigned coughs, dizziness and itchy, burning skin while being treated by paramedics. But when a firefighter decontaminated the victims by hosing them down with cold water, their screams were not scripted.

“I’m freezing,” said student Amanda Chial. “But I learned to stay calm and cooperative in an emergency. It gets things done faster.”

Seated in a paramedics van, Hanna explained his role as a student who allegedly released mustard gas in the science center.

In a real situation, Hanna’s crime would bring in the FBI and shut down the building for days, said Andy Ortega, a battalion chief with the county fire department. His job during the drill was to evaluate the performances of the various agencies.

“They’re working together. That’s what we want. We want the agencies to come together,” Ortega said.

Capt. Ron Oatman of the Ventura County Fire Department said the exercise was a rare chance for the separate agencies to perform as a team.

“We don’t on a daily basis get to work with all of the agencies,” he said.

The event also reminded participants that wildfires and earthquakes aren’t the only disasters Californians need to prepare for, the fire captain said.

“The world we live in includes the possibility of terrorism,” Oatman said. “No matter where you are, you should always be thinking of your contingency plan. ‘How would I react? Do I know where things are?’”

Hazmat Officer Steve Baker said this was the first large-scale emergency exercise performed at CLU.

“This is a chance to work with Cal Lutheran on a scenario that we think is realistic,” Baker said. “We’re going to take the lessons we learn today and turn those into training points for both CLU and all the agencies represented here.”

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