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Alaska Shield: Emergency response exercise occurring at UAA on April 1

Key emergency organizations in Alaska will come together on April 1 to test their systems, protocols and their ability to work together in the event of a crisis. This year’s exercise will mimic an active shooter threat involving Alaska Homeland Security, Alaska FBI and Alaska Fire Department, as well as Providence Hospital and the American Red Cross. UAA will participate by holding the scenario on West Campus, where students will be in place to act as hostages and terrorists.

USUAA Vice President Matthieu Ostrander explained how the Alaska Shield drill is a tool for emergency planning.

“‘We don’t know’ isn’t the response you want when you ask ‘what if?’ Preparing our response could save lives. It also helps up recognize what we can do now. We might realize that we need stronger doors or a better way to navigate buildings in emergencies,” said Ostrander of the Alaska Shield exercise.

Along with larger organizations around the state, UPD will be active in the exercise as first responders to the crisis. Lieutenant Michael Beckner of UPD explained the role UPD plays in the exercise.

“Just like sports practices or studying and homework for academics, like anything else we have to practice to make sure we’re good and prepared for what might happen. Agencies that tend not to work together have an opportunity to come together to make sure there aren’t any gaps in security and work out any kinks,” Beckner said. “On that day, we’ll have officers that would normally be on a regular shift to respond to the call reporting the incident. We’ll take the lead and APD will arrive and join them.”

According to Alaska Homeland Security, the bicentennial exercises are designed to evaluate 13 core capabilities of participants. Community resilience, cybersecurity, environment response/health & safety, fatality management services, intelligence & information sharing, mass care services, mass search and rescue operations, on-scene security and protection, operational communications, operational coordination, planning, public health and medical services, and public information and warning.

The University’s Incident Management Team (IMT) works closely with UPD to make sure that all students, faculty and staff are informed about what’s happening on campus and coordinating plans for safety on campus. Kristin DeSmith, the Assistant Vice Chancellor for University Relations, is part of the IMT and will be involved in the emergency notifications process.

“The drill gives us an opportunity to work together as a team in situations that require being cohesive and getting information out to people on campus, and the best way to do that is practice,” DeSmith said. “It helps us to find out where we might need to practice more to keep the campus as safe as possible.”

DeSmith explained that the Alaska Shield exercise is an active drill as opposed to a “table top scenario” which allows more realistic and interactive practice.

“It’s really cool to see so many organizations involved in the drill, from health care to law enforcement,” DeSmith said.

Ostrander and Beckner recommended that students who will be on campus during the time of the drill to stay away from West Campus to help participants be as effective as possible.

“Students should follow up on the exercise and see what we learn, but that doesn’t mean they should show up. This is not a spectacle, it’s a drill for an emergency,” Ostrander said.

Even though the Alaska Shield drill is primarily aimed towards preparing emergency personnel, there are ways that students can learn from the drill and be aware of what their role is in campus emergencies.

“In times of emergencies and crisis, students need to listen and follow instructions,” said Beckner. “The police will send out messages through email, text and phones, and the best thing to do is pay attention because we’re doing it for your safety.”

Beckner clarified that the drill is for training purposes and is not reactive to any specific or credible information regarding a terrorist threat.

“It’s simply so that if the unthinkable does happen we are prepared. We know that this can be upsetting or difficult for some students, so if anyone has any issues or any trauma regarding this, they can get with the Care Team or the Student Health Center, or can call us as well if they need someone to talk to.”

The Alaska Shield exercise is set to start around 8 a.m. and will last until noon on April 1 with alerts and messaging operating through the UA Online systems and information. The drill is a exemplary demonstration of the hard work of security organizations to keep Alaskans safe and prepared for the worst.

Written by Kathryn Casello