UTPA conducts first emergency mock disaster drill
Posted: 05/22/2002
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Police, fire trucks, emergency personnel and local media assisted The University of Texas-Pan American in conducting a campus mock emergency disaster drill Wednesday, May 22 in an effort to prepare the UTPA community for an actual event.

UTPA president Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez said the drill was an excellent opportunity to bring together the City of Edinburg and the University to find out how they can work together in an emergency situation.

"Basically, what we are trying to do is get all our ducks lined up in a row and make sure we know what to do first if an emergency should occur and know how to respond to it," Nevárez said. "We also wanted to find out if the University disaster plan worked and if people responded to it."

Various administrators and personnel at The University of Texas-Pan American gather in the command center during the recent campus mock drill.

The drill combined the resources of the University Police and Edinburg fire and medical emergency personnel who helped contain and clean up the mock incident, which occurred in the Science Building.

During the drill, the scenario involved a cut refrigerant line that emitted phosgene, a highly poisonous and deadly gas, throughout the second floor of the building. The gas was distributed across the building through the air conditioning vents, and 15 individuals were injured.

Student actors at the scene wore placards around their necks indicating if they were injured, distraught, or unharmed. Two students were designated as fatalities.

Richard Costello, director of UTPA Environmental Health and Safety, said the mock disaster was based on an actual emergency that happened four years ago at another university in Texas.

More than a 100 volunteers, including UTPA staff and police, assisted in the drill, which resulted in two fatalities and seven individuals being sent to Edinburg Regional Medical Center for treatment. The UTPA Critical Stress Management Team treated several victims for trauma. Regular updates were provided to the media and to the community at large by the Office of University Relations.

"We were able to put messages up on the University's web and internal television monitors," said Julia Benitez Sullivan, University Relations director. "We also utilized the Edinburg community access cable channel to provide information about the mock drill. In an actual scenario, we would depend on our local media to assist in providing updates on the crisis to the community through their news operations."

Reporters from Univision, Channel 48, ABC, Channel 5, and El Periodico attended the event and provided feedback to the drill and KURV radio, 710 AM, aired information about the drill during its daily news breaks, Sullivan said.

"I'd like to thank the media who attended the event because they helped us actualize what our response would be in an actual emergency," she said.

Costello said that more emergency drills are planned in the near future for the safety of both the University and community.

"Rest assured in an event of a real emergency, all parties involved are going to be prepared to protect the health and safety of the UTPA community," Costello said.