Ambulances, firetrucks, and NYPD cars crowded Jasper Hall on Thursday, April 3 due to a planned emergency scenario exercise run by the Manhattan College Public Safety Department, the NYPD and Con Edison.
According to an email sent out by Public Safety, the simulated drill was a part of the school’s “ongoing training to prepare in case of a real life-threatening emergency.”
“The point of the drill was to evaluate our policies and procedures. We have an emergency policy and procedure manual and it addresses evacuation and it addresses emergencies on campus. What we did was we extracted the applicable policies and we had evaluators observe the drill to see our level of compliance with the policies,” Robert DeRosa, Associate Director of Public Safety and Risk Management, said.
The drill was a simulated electrical vault explosion, therefore there was smoke being used in the Jasper parking lot in order to make the scenario seem authentic. “When the New York City Fire Department and Con Edison do drills like this across the five boroughs, they try to make it as real as possible,” DeRosa said.
Drill participants wearing make-up, fake blood and wound prosthetics could be seen evacuating Jasper Hall in complete panic, as if there was a real emergency.
“When people are learning, and that includes the firefighters and the EMS workers, when they respond it helps them get a feel for what they would have encountered, and to make the drill seem as real as possible, without anyone actually being hurt,” DeRosa said.
The planning for the drill had been going on for two or three years, according to DeRosa, and everything about the drill was organized long beforehand during the table-top meeting, where everyone involved in the drill sits down and discusses what role they are going to play and how they would respond to that emergency.
The drill was considered a success and the information learned from it was essential to the safety of MC’s campus. “There were no major deficiencies found in our policies, but we do want to make changes. There’ll be a critique and a follow-up meeting in probably another week or so where we bring everyone together and ask them what the issues were and whether or not we actually need to change policies. The follow-up meeting will tell us what we need to do, DeRosa said.
Many students have wondered why the drill was held while students were on campus and not during a break or a weekend. According to DeRosa, it was originally scheduled for December, but had to be pushed back because of the MTA train derailment.
The drill was always planned to be executed while students were on campus though. “We just thought it’d be better, especially for the RA’s to witness it and any other students who wanted to observe to see what an actual drill, what an actual explosion fire response, would look like,” DeRosa said.
One of the things that DeRosa and Public Safety found most important about the drill was that everything ran smoothly and that there were no complaints from nearby Riverdale residents or students.
While there were no formal complaints filed about the drill, some Jasper residents found it to be a bit of an inconvenience since they could either choose to stay inside of their rooms for the full two hours, or stay out of the dorm completely. Access to Jasper Hall was totally restricted, and students could not enter or leave the dorm while the drill was going on.
“The drill was a little bit inconvenient getting locked out of my dorm for that long of a period of time,” Courtney Otis, a sophomore Jasper Hall resident, said.
By executing such a realistic scenario, the emergency responders could get a true sense of how everything would go down in a real emergency. But because everything was so realistic, many students were frightened and anxious.
“The fire alarm started going off for about a minute and then they shut off all of the power in the building and the hallway was completely black,” Kate Lynreuter, a sophomore Jasper resident, said. “People started chasing me covered in blood with glass sticking out of their necks and banging on my door and asking for help,” she said.
Freshman Emily Garvilla had a similar terrifying experience. “It was actually pretty scary, everyone was screaming. A fireman thought my room was part of the drill and came in when I was sitting at my desk. I screamed and ran in the other room. It was so realistic, I was petrified!” Garvilla said.
Although the drill was a scary experience for some students, now the observers will know exactly what to expect if there were ever a real emergency.
This drill was a really big deal for MC, and DeRosa explained that MC was extremely fortunate that every single department involved in the drill, whether it was Con Edison, the fire department, the NYPD or the EMS workers, cooperated with Public Safety and was so willing to help them get through the drill.
There will be other exercises conducted in the future, according to DeRosa, but none as immense as the one that was just done.
In terms of other safety procedures and initiatives to make the campus safer, students can expect the usual fire drills that are continuously conducted. The RA’s and RD’s are trained every year as well, and Public Safety reinforces the drills and emergencies that they may encounter.
“We also have our safety tips on the Manhattan College website. You’ll see evacuation on there, you’ll see how to stay safe on the subway, all different subject matter. So it’s an ongoing, constant review of safety procedures,” DeRosa said.
Even though this past drill seemed over the top and too realistic for some, it was all done with the safety and future safety of everyone at MC kept in mind.