As part of an ongoing partnership to improve public safety and emergency preparedness, the City of Evanston and Northwestern University recently conducted their fifth annual joint Emergency Response Drills on the University’s campus.

Organized through a collaborative effort between the Evanston Fire Department and Northwestern University’s Office of Research Safety, the hazardous materials drills are designed to enhance training, planning and collaboration among first responders, City and University officials, and local hospitals in the event of a high-consequence emergency incident. This 2019 exercise theme was “Trauma and Pre-Hospital Patient Care.”

Conducted Aug. 20-22, the drills provided all three Evanston Fire Department shifts as well as fire departments from neighboring communities the opportunity to respond to a simulated laboratory explosion at NU’s Technological Institute building, 2145 Sheridan Road.

Beginning with a simulated call to 911, the drills involved all aspects of responding to a complex hazardous materials incident, from assessment and mitigation to triage and patient care.

Participants included the Evanston Fire and Fire 911 Dispatch and Police Departments, Northwestern University Office of Research Safety, Police and University Police Dispatch along with Northwestern departments of Facilities, Risk Management and Emergency Management.

In addition, officials attended from the Skokie Fire Department, Wilmette Fire Department, Winnetka Fire Department and the MABAS Division 3 Hazardous Materials Team, which includes members of 17 area fire departments.

This year, the drills also incorporated emergency medical personnel and doctors from local hospitals, including AMITA Health Saint Francis Hospital Evanston, Evanston Hospital and Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Physicians were on site to observe and critique initial care provided by responding paramedics.

“The EFD and NU’s Office of Research Safety enjoy a long-standing partnership, helping to improve safety on campus and in the greater Evanston community,” said Evanston Fire Chief Brian Scott.

“By taking a proactive approach to emergency response training, we can ensure that first responders from the City and University are well prepared to collaborate and respond to a complex emergency incident wherever it may occur. My thanks to Northwestern University, our local hospitals, first responders and all who contribute to this vital partnership.”

In addition to practicing incident mitigation and patient care, the training also provided first responders with an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the Northwestern campus and the Tech building, which is among the most complex facilities on campus in both layout and daily operations.

“This year’s emergency response drills provided an opportunity for our first responders to gain confidence and competence in mitigating a highly complex hazardous materials and emergency medical incident,” said Gregory Klaiber, director of Emergency Management in Northwestern’s Department of Safety and Security and former fire chief of the City of Evanston.

The annual drills were created and planned by Michael Blayney, Executive Director of the Office of Research Safety at the University, who observed, “In all cases, the scenarios we develop would be high consequence incidents with a low probability of happening.”

After each exercise, all participants conducted a “hot wash” meeting where they recounted and reviewed their actions step by step to evaluate the incident, assess strengths and weaknesses in their response and identify opportunities for improvement.

“Every day people do science safely, and every day people do science and go home,” Mr. Blayney said. But when things go wrong, he added, such exercises can help prepare University and first responders with essential knowledge and practice to better address hazardous materials incidents and collaborate to provide medical care to casualties.