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EM Exercise Design Program Gives Students Hands-on Experience image

One of the biggest pieces of emergency management is designing preparedness and readiness exercises for various disasters that can befall communities and regions.  In Ohio, annual emergency management exercises are required at the county level.  The practices vary from table-top and office-based to full-field deployments. 

Scenarios cover every possible disaster from highway and railroad spills of hazardous materials, to tornadoes and hurricanes, blizzards and earthquakes, forest fires and flooding, to rioting or other possible emergencies.  OCU’s program is one of a few that integrate hands-on, real-life experience.

The Emergency Manager for Ross County, Ohio, invited Professor Hicks and his Emergency Management (EM) student majors to help with the county’s required annual emergency management exercise in providing guidance for designing the exercise and in running a half-day full-scale exercise in Chillicothe, Ohio.

Emergency management exercise design is a key course in OCU’s EM program.  Designing an exercise is an important skill learned following a base of practical knowledge in addition to demonstrating ad hoc creativity and assembling realistic scenarios so that exercise participants learn lessons they can apply in real disasters.

As Dr. Hicks explains, “For the Ross County exercise, we had fire apparatuses on the scene and used Adena EMS and hospital facilities.  Lots of players were involved, dozens of moving parts that our eight-student team managed.  This exercise was their final project for the course. In 2019, we expect to have the students provide management for Ross County’s next exercise.  The students now know the intricacies of the county’s services and deployment requirements. We push hard to include hands-on experiences in the program so students learn from actual realistic exercises in addition to classroom discussion and reading.  This makes our program unique from EM programs elsewhere.”

Students on recent trips to Puerto Rico assisted recovery from hurricane devastation.  After these events, they participate in debriefings to discuss what operations went well, not so well, and how they can be improved in the future.  “There are established specific responses for particular types of disasters,” explains Hicks.  “We practice an ‘all hazards approach’ to disasters in attempt to create a responsive system that addresses 70% of common similar circumstances, and then address the 30% of circumstances that are different and unique creatively.  In our classes we cover new examples of lessons learned from the most recent disasters.  So students are learning best practices from FEMA, state agencies, and non-profit organizations like the Salvation Army.  Everyone benefits from sharing about what practices really work best.”

The International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) gives guidance and has subscription services.  In October, Hicks is leading OCU EM students to attend IAEM’s annual conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he is presenting on lessons learned for developing quality teams of volunteers in a non-profit context to over a thousand emergency managers from around the world.  Hicks is OCU’s Emergency Manager and participates in an EM association where members share experiences and lessons with other EM managers, including from other Ohio colleges and universities.  “It’s a lot of work, but we are agile,” says Hicks. “We redesign our EM program courses as needed to incorporate the latest advances.”

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