On Aug. 7, a coordinated effort between several layers of federal and local law enforcement performed an emergency response drill at Arcadia. The morning drill aimed to allow the agencies to practice working as a team in response to an emergency situation on Arcadia’s campus.
The drill, which simulated a hostage situation with mock explosive devices in multiple locations within the dining hall, included the FBI, the Philadelphia Police Department Bomb Squad, Plymouth Whitemarsh Township Explosives K-9 and ATF divisions, Montgomery County Detective and Sheriff’s bomb squads, Cheltenham Police Department, and the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office. While no live ammunition or munitions were used, the drill needed to look and feel realistic to most effectively measure emergency response time.
“Having drills is a great thing for us to do because we’re out there always trying to improve and to stay up on things,” said James Bonner, director of public safety at Arcadia. “Plus, the things you learn during whatever exercise you do applies to them all.”
The drill, which is the third of its kind to be held at Arcadia, included the apprehension of two perpetrators, the release of multiple hostages within the Dining Hall, and the detection and diffusion of multiple explosive devices using different methods, including a bomb squad team, a K-9 unit, and a bomb squad robot. The drill ended with the robot detonating two of the bombs on Haber Green.
“It’s really important to know who your people are [and] who you are going to be working with,” said Montgomery County Sheriff Department Sgt. Allen Stewart, stressing the importance of familiarity among all the different teams working to respond to an emergency situation. “If you’re familiar with the people, you have a trust now that when they come out to do the job, you’re all working on the same page.”
Interestingly, it was not only the law enforcement agencies who learned from this situation. In fact, the hostages were Arcadia students interested in criminal justice recruited by Stewart.
“I think it’s important that if you’re going to get into the field of law enforcement that you know exactly what happens from the time a crime scene begins to the time it ends,” Stewart said. “I think it’s very important for them to understand where the evidence comes from that they end up getting at their labs. They see how it works, they see how it’s collected, they see how they end up with it. I just think that that’s a wealth of knowledge that they may not be afforded without something like this to go to.”
Even after the hostages had been released, several of them remained on the scene to observe the K-9 unit and robot bomb diffusion, chatting with various law enforcement officers and observing the process first-hand.
“Partaking in this drove home how domestic terrorists can strike anywhere,” said student-hostage Jennifer Carr ’16, a biology major. “It was a good experience to learn what to do in such a situation. They definitely don’t teach you this in the Girl Scouts.”
Arcadia’s public safety staff also learned key lessons, including the need for a greater degree of communication between the two separate remote command centers set up by Arcadia and the law enforcement agencies, Bonner said.
Behr commended the public safety staff at Arcadia, noting that they provide crucial assistance to law enforcement in securing a perimeter and ensuring student and campus safety in the event of a real emergency.
“The University has been very good about stepping up,” said Behr, noting that in only her first term as Montgomery County sheriff she has attended practice drills at Arcadia twice already. “They have been extremely proactive. I’ve been here on this campus, working with security to make sure that the surrounding jurisdictions’ agencies all work together. I really have to commend this University for what they are doing.”