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COLLEGE STATION – Texas A&M University System campuses are working to be better prepared for potential threats or emergencies. Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) and the Texas A&M System Office of Risk Management have teamed up to provide member universities the opportunity to activate their response plan to a simulated campus crisis.

TEEX has developed and delivered tabletop exercises that present a potential threat or incident scenario realistic to each campus involved. The exercises allow university administrators and emergency personnel to work through their response plan to keep students and employees safe. An additional bonus with this exercise program is the synergism gained when responders and agencies from off-campus have a chance to work with their campus counterparts and plan together for the potential threat.

The goal of the exercise is to improve coordination, communication and response by university officials and local responders to a potential threat or incident on their campus, said Hank Lawson, Program Director with TEEX Emergency Services Training Services (ESTI). The one-day tabletop exercise is conducted on-site with the crisis management team and local responders at each university.

“TEEX facilitates the tabletop exercise to provide universities the opportunity to identify any gaps in their policies and procedures and their existing crisis management plans,” Lawson said. The exercises are delivered in an environment conducive to challenging existing emergency response plans, and making plan improvements with the coordination of the responders from both the university and off-campus.

After an initial exercise was conducted for Texas A&M University a couple of years ago, the A&M System tapped TEEX to conduct emergency response tabletop exercises for several universities. Since 2011, exercises have been held at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, Tarleton State University, Texas A&M University-Texarkana, West Texas A&M University, Texas A&M — Galveston, the Texas A&M Health Science Center, Texas A&M University Commerce and Texas A&M University Corpus Christi.

“Each tabletop exercise is designed around a specific crisis scenario selected by the university to assess its ability to respond to protect life, restore essential operations, establish accountability and continue critical services,” Lawson said.

Incidents and scenarios selected for the exercises have included: inclement weather building collapse, an aircraft crashing into a tanker truck just off campus, an active shooter, a tornado, a bomb threat followed by an explosion and an airplane crash next to the university’s stadium. In each exercise, as many as 74 participants have worked on incident coordination and communication between the campus response team and faculty, staff, students, responders, A&M System members and others, he said.

Lawson said TEEX has provided this type of assistance and exercises to federal agencies, state and local jurisdictions, public health and medical agencies, school districts and universities across the state and nation.

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Minneapolis, MN area responders that were dispatched to the bridge collapse on I-35 had been training and exercising in preparation for a large scale response for years. So when the I-35 bridge collapsed without warning with 160 people on the bridge killing 13 and injuring 121 others, they were ready.

I took many courses from TEEX-NERRTC over the years that helped me in the response.

— John Fruetel, Assistant Fire Chief, Minneapolis, MN
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