The Charger Blog

Hands-On Drill Enables Students to Serve as First Responders, Investigators

Designed to be as realistic as possible, the Lee College's recent mass casualty drill was planned by students for students, offering Chargers in a variety of fields an exciting opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other and their professors as they responded to and investigated a mock incident.

April 20, 2023

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Students 'treat' victims while responding to a mock disaster.
Students "treat" victims while responding to a mock disaster.

Catelyn Battelle '23 and her fellow first responders worked together as they followed a chain of command and decided how to handle a recent "disaster." It was situation that involved a hazardous material and patients in need of help – and lots of cooperation between responders from different fields.

Battelle, a criminal justice major and president of the University's EMS club, was among the dozens of students who responded. Though it looked like a real emergency, it was an exciting way for Battelle and her classmates to gain hands-on experience by responding to a mock incident on campus.

"This allowed us to work together, with organizations we might not always work with," she said. "It's good for us learn to work together and follow a chain of command. It's a great learning experience for us."

Every spring, the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences conducts a Mass Casualty Incident Drill, enabling students in a variety of programs of study – including fire science and national security – to practice responding to an emergency. Designed to look as real as possible, the scene includes real props, from bullet casings to the yellow crime scene tape that blocked off the area. Whether they were dressed in hazmat suits or medical officer vests, students looked ready to respond to an emergency and process a crime scene.

"This was a great way for those of us who have taken the CSI class at the University to practice what we've learned and to teach those who haven't how to bag evidence properly," said Kyle Tavares '23, a forensic science major and vice president of the forensic science club. "I really enjoyed communicating with our teams and having this real-world opportunity to engage with them and our professors."

'Let mistakes happen here, before we're in the field'
Students process a mock crime scene
Students process a mock crime scene.

While students have this hands-on opportunity every spring, the scenarios change every year. This year, students applied their skills in four separate scenes connected to one mock incident. Every scene is connected to the thread of the story, and students must collaborate as they investigate and make decisions. While enabling students to apply what they've learned in the classroom, the drill offers them excellent preparation for when they're responding to a real incident.

"We were able to bring our education and our experience together," said Trevor Holmes '23, president of the fire science club. "The University thrives on putting students in the field before we graduate. It's important for us to be able to let mistakes happen here, before we're in the field."

Video courtesy of Alex Kline '23.

'Coordinating with students in different fields'

This year's scenario started with a drone that sprayed a chemical on people, followed by a shootout at the fictitious Ruden Street Bar and Grill, which became the second crime scene to which students responded. Student investigators were then led to a "warehouse" with chemicals. The fourth scene was a surveillance area operated by national security and homeland security students.

Student dressed for disaster
Students were dressed to respond to the mock disaster.

"I call it a 'mass coordination incident,' as everyone works together," said Robert Healey, M.S., a senior lecturer of fire science and emergency management who helps students organize the drill each year. "We want to get as many students involved as possible. It's a great learning experience, and we also want the students to have fun."

Prof. Healey says it's the students themselves who plan the event every year – students such as Vanessa Schenking '23, a criminal justice major. They tell their professors what they'd like to include – such as the drone and command vests they used this year – and their professors do their best to make sure they have what they need. It's also a collaboration between the Lee College and the University's Facilities Department, which lends support each year. Schenking and her fellow student-organizers wanted to make sure that everyone had as real an experience as possible. She says she was pleased with the outcome, and the opportunities it offered.

"It's cool to see everything we've planned come to fruition, and we've enjoyed this," said Schenking, vice president of the University's American Criminal Justice Association chapter. "It's great to be a part of this, working together and coordinating with students in different fields."

'Work together toward a common goal'

The drill truly does require collaboration. Fire science students, for example, responded to the hazmat situation and worked with EMS students who then treated those who had been sickened. It was also a great way for students to learn about what other first responders' and investigators' responsibilities entail.

"It's good for us to communicate between fields, and many of us came to the University for experiences like this," said Mark Damato, Jr. '23, president of the University's homeland security and emergency management club. "I want to help people, and this drill gave me insight into the people I'll be working with as I do that."

Lee College students during mass casualty drill
Lee College students collaborated throughout the mass casualty drill.

For Alex Kline '23, president of the national security club, the experience was an exciting way for him, his fellow club members, and all national security majors to gain hands-on experience. Kline, who restarted the club (formerly the National Security Council), says it was the organization's first year taking part in the drill. He hopes it fosters interest in the field in all students. He was excited for the opportunities the drill created and for sharing his passion for the field.

"This event allowed national security students a better understanding of an anti-terrorist operation acting as intelligence officers," he explains. "We could witness the chain of custody of evidence and how different organizations can work together toward a common goal."