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Staff photo by Don Himsel

Nashua Police Department Capt. Bruce Hansen gives tips on how to handle emergency operations to Daniel Webster College students Tuesday, May 1, 2012. City emergency leaders tutored homeland security students on how to handle real emergencies during a special class Tuesday.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Daniel Webster College students get trained in emergency response

NASHUA – About a dozen Daniel Webster College students majoring in homeland security got a taste of what it’s like to run an emergency response during a live drill Tuesday.

The drill was organized by a small group of students in the school’s Homeland Security Club and John Clark, the college’s director of campus safety and an instructor in the homeland security department. It ran in conjunction with a National Guard Civil Support team drill at the Nashua Airport.

The exercise simulated a hazardous materials spill – phosgene – in an airport hangar.

The chemical, used in industrial applications, poisoned a student and required an evacuation zone of 100 meters and closing Perimeter Road.

Parker Moore, a senior, helped organize the drill and said he hoped it help “close the gap” between classroom learning and real world emergency response.

“We’re involving the students so they get an idea of what it’s like to be at a scene,” Moore said. “The students are hopefully getting a sense of what it’s like to be part of a response and the practical application of what they learn in class.”

That’s what Christopher Hickey, who heads Daniel Webster’s homeland security undergraduate program, was looking for, too.

“This is how federal, state and local agencies work together,” he said. “We do a lot of this classroom activity but this gets them out to see it in action. I think this is the beginning of creating these out-of-the-classroom learning experiences, which, in this profession, is so vital.”

Students in the program took on the roles of emergency management director, police captain, deputy fire chief, director of campus safety, hazardous materials expert, EMT and public information officers.

The students were able to work with their real-life counterparts – including Clark, Nashua Police Capt. Bruce Hansen, Justin Kates, the city’s emergency management director, and AMR supervisor Chris Stawasz.

Moore and Sean Kopitsky, a junior, who also helped plan the exercise, acted as controllers, following the script – which the other students didn’t have – and introducing each development for those students to address in real time.

Kates helped with that, too, pestering the group to put together a briefing for the mayor and then a statement for the press and another for parents calling in worried about their students.

There was a slight glitch at the start of the exercise when the command team walked into the contaminated hangar – the “hot zone” – instead of the command post set up in a conference room at the airport’s administrative building.

There was plenty more to worry about for the students, including establishing a perimeter and command center, evacuating a pair of buildings near the contaminated hangar, and locking down businesses along Perimeter Road.

Among the other logistical concerns that popped up Tuesday was contacting Red Cross officials in case an overnight shelter became necessary and coordinating the delivery of food, water and coffee for workers and command staff.

Students also were charged with lining up replacements in case the emergency lasted many hours, as well as keeping a detailed log of their actions and decisions for the accountants.

“It’s eye-opening,” Kopitsky said. “It takes the classroom experience to the next level. This is as close to the real world as we can get right now. With homeland security, lives are on the line so we need to be as prepared as possible.”

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or