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WSC Students Test Disaster Preparedness

 

One month into spring and the temperature soars into the high 90s. Wayne State and surrounding organizations are forced to monitor outside activities due to the unseasonably hot weather. The next day a storm begins brewing and weather services issue warnings about tornadoes. The news quickly turns its attention to Northeast Nebraska as a funnel cloud is spotted near Winside, Neb., just minutes from the college.

 

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The massive F5 tornado swept into Wayne from the southwest and blazed a path of destruction through the city and across campus. Several campus buildings were heavily damaged, including Bowen Hall, power was knocked out, the college’s web servers were destroyed, and normal means of communication were disrupted.

 

Just such a scenario greeted the members of Wayne State’s Disaster Planning Group when they convened for a tabletop planning exercise on Dec. 6. The exercise was planned and executed in its entirety by members of Dr. Jason Karsky’s CJA 460 Emergency Management class.

 

“We took the first half of the semester learning about emergency management and the second half focusing almost entirely on the tabletop,” Karsky said.

 

Karsky’s students conducted two exercises that day: one for the WSC group and another for Wayne County officials.

 

“Students enrolled in the emergency management course assisted campus and community entities in preparing for a natural disaster,” Karsky said. “This project involved 17 students who organized two simulated tornado tabletop disaster scenarios. The scenarios included mock media broadcasts and critical incident injects for emergency operations personnel. During the exercise questions regarding chain of command, communication protocols, available resources, and current policy emerged.”

 

Jean Dale, vice president for finance and administration, and Dr. Jeff Carstens, vice president of student affairs and dean of students, co-chair the Disaster Planning Group and serve on the college’s Crisis Management Team, which also includes personnel from counseling, student health, human resources, network and technology services, facility services, campus security, athletics, college relations, and local public service agencies.

 

“Through the tabletop exercise, our students raised questions that helped us focus on areas where we can improve in readiness,” Dale said. “They presented us with scenarios that forced us to expand our preparedness plans.”

 

“The students were well prepared and presented the planning team with a realistic emergency scenario that included a comprehensive set of issues for our consideration,” Carstens said. “The exercise allowed us to put the plan into practice and to identify areas for improvement.”

 

Samantha Jones of Blair, Neb., was part of the group of students that carried out the exercise for Wayne State.

 

“This tabletop exercise for Wayne State administration was a great experience,” Jones said. “As a student it allowed me to see exactly how complicated and time consuming preparedness can be. It was reassuring to see that the administration has our best interest at hand. But most importantly, we were allowed to be a part of something that was in the best interest of the entire community.”

 

“The cost of an evaluation program such as this for emergency responders is often beyond the budgetary means of rural entities,” Karsky said. “However, the mock exercises are invaluable in more than monetary measures. These disaster drills allow for a critical assessment process by opening the communication channels between various agency personnel. In addition, institutional data finds that college students who participate in Service-Learning have a better understanding of local government, politics, and community issues.”

 

“The tabletop exercise was very successful in my mind,” said Jason Mrsny, interim director of security at WSC. “As a college and community, no matter how big or small the crisis may be, these exercises remind us of what we need to work on together during a mass emergency. Safety and security is a top priority and Wayne State College must visit and rehearse on a regular basis how we would function and react in times of crisis. Tabletop exercises teach us valuable lessons and they should not be overlooked. Dr. Karky's class did a professional and excellent job in facilitating the tabletop.”

 

Other students involved in the exercise: Delaunte Allen of Bellevue, Brian Bierschenk of Plainview, Zachary Bohaty of Wahoo, Trevor Eisenhauer of Beemer, Trent Garvin of Clay Center, Miah Haller of Alta, Iowa, Nathan Hare of Ida Grove, Iowa, Brandon James of Bellevue, Rebecca Luber of Eagle, Maxwell Martin of Sioux City, Iowa, Kyle O’Neill of Gretna, Brandon Oestreich of Stanton, Jason Schaaf of Stuart, Samantha Slobodnik of Carter Lake, Iowa, Eric Timmerman of George, Iowa, and Jason Urbanec of Pender.

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