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College conducts emergency exercise at Heathrow

Seminole State's Heathrow Campus was the site of a planned emergency exercise that included an evacuation drill and a building search. About 50 first responders, college administrators and staff participated in the exercise. (Photos by Kelly Canova)

At 9:45 a.m., a female student calls 911 to report that her ex-boyfriend told her he was on campus with an explosive device and would detonate it if he didn’t get to speak to her in person.

This didn’t really happen. Instead, the 911 call was part of a planned emergency exercise at Seminole State College of Florida’s Heathrow Campus on Friday, Oct. 19. But if a real emergency does occur, Seminole State College and Seminole County’s first responders are prepared.

The exercise simulated how Seminole State administration and staff, and Seminole County first responders would be notified of an emergency and how quickly they would respond. It included an evacuation drill and a building search. Seminole State’s communications team also participated in the exercise by posting updates on the College’s emergency hotline, website and social media sites.

Officials from the Seminole County Sheriff's Office and the Seminole County Department of Public Safety prepare for an emergency exercise at the Heathrow Campus on Oct. 19.

About 50 first responders, college administrators and staff participated in the exercise.

The exercise, a collaborative effort among Seminole State College, the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office and the Seminole County Department of Public Safety, was planned for several months. Staff from the Seminole County Office of Emergency Management wrote the exercise, which was not announced in advance.

 “This is the first functional, full-scale exercise we’ve done at a school, K-12 or higher education,” says Alan Harris, emergency manager at the Seminole County Office of Emergency Management. He says exercises like this allow participants to test their emergency plan and communication, and to practice establishing a unified command to form one organizational structure. “It also allows us to test the equipment and see if there’s something we need to improve,” he says.

Participants in the exercise wore colored vests and were deployed as if an actual incident were occurring. The exercise was designed to test preparedness and response and communication during an emergency, and allowed Seminole State staff to connect with Seminole County’s first responders before an emergency happens. It also provided an opportunity for staff from the University of Central Florida’s Office of Emergency Management to evaluate the exercise.

“Campus emergencies can happen anywhere at any time,” says Dick Hamann, Seminole State’s chief information officer and chairman of the College’s Emergency Response Team. “It’s essential that we know how to respond quickly and effectively in emergency situations. Conducting exercises like this, with the cooperation of agencies in Seminole County and other areas, increases our preparedness and helps to ensure the safety of our students, faculty and staff, which is our top priority.”

The College’s Heathrow Campus was selected for the exercise because of its unique, two-fold purpose as a college campus and as a regional economic development office. Resident partners also participated in the exercise.

Hosting the exercise on a Friday also provided the least disruption, since fewer classes are held on Fridays.

Once the exercise concluded, participants met to discuss the exercise and to suggest improvements. More exercises using different scenarios are being planned for Seminole State’s other campuses to ensure the College is ready for emergencies of all kinds on any of its sites.

“Preparation and practice are key,” Hamann says, "and we want to be prepared to act in the most efficient way possible.”

Seminole State College’s Emergency Response Team, organized in line with the Incident Command System, is comprised of a cross section of representatives from Seminole State College. ERT oversees emergency planning and response at Seminole State.  For more information, please visit the Seminole State Alert homepage.

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