Swarthmore held its annual emergency response exercise on Saturday, bringing College community members together with local and county fire, police, and transportation officials to help prepare for a swift and successful response to an actual emergency on campus.
Beginning at 6:30 a.m. in the area of the train underpass on Chester Road, the drill simulated — by way of closing the road — a car accident involving a gasoline tanker that included a gas spill, fire, explosion, and injuries.
Both at the scene and in College offices, members of Swarthmore’s emergency response team and other staff "responded" to the accident as they would in their actual roles at the College. They reported, processed, and acted on information in real time and in close collaboration with first responders at the scene.
Among the logistics to manage were closing roads and buildings, transporting injured students to the hospital, notifying the College community of events as they unfolded, and ensuring safety and comfort for the students displaced by damage to residence halls.
The simulation was the culmination of discussion-based, table-top sessions, held in the previous two years of drills, on how to respond to this type of an accident. This year it also included officials from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), which held its own emergency preparedness training drill at the Swarthmore train station — the first time SEPTA has partnered with an area college or university for its own drill.
For the second component of this year’s exercise, once the simulated accident had been "cleared," the various participants gathered in Tarble Commons inside the Matchbox for a table-top conversation dealing with the ongoing effects the simulated accident would have on the College community. This phase had representatives from each area of the response effort, such as Swarthmore Borough police and fire, SEPTA, and Delaware County Emergency Management, and focused on the successes and challenges of the entire event.
“Safety is our number one priority, but it's a shared responsibility, and that is on display when responding to an emergency,” says Mike Hill, director of public safety. “It took real collaboration to make this exercise a success and a teachable moment for all of us.
“I so appreciate the partnership with our local emergency responders, Swarthmore police and fire,” adds Hill, “and also with the county, other supporting police and fire agencies, and the support of all the College staff and faculty who participated in the exercise on a rainy Saturday morning.”
Saturday’s event reinforced many of the positive steps the College has taken to prepare for an emergency, Hill says, including involvement by all key community partners, communication across offices and external agencies, leveraging the use of technology, and using the Federal Emergency Management Agency and National Incident Management System model for identifying responsibilities.
“We will continue to refine and develop our incident action plans to support operations both during and after an incident,” Hill wrote in a message to the College community. “It is crucial that everyone involved in the exercise not only be well versed in their specific area, but also understand the value of conducting and participating in these exercises.”
For more information on Swarthmore’s emergency preparedness, please refer to the Emergency Response Guide.