Preparing for the worst (video)

PAUL SMITHS – Bloody students cried and wailed for their friends after a disgruntled college applicant’s bomb leveled part of Clinton Residence Hall at Paul Smith’s College Thursday morning.

No need to panic, though. It was just a drill.

The blood, the bomb and the tears were fake, part of a disaster drill held at Paul Smith’s Thursday to test the emergency preparedness of the campus and surrounding emergency responder organizations.

But students who volunteered to be dressed up as victims of the explosion were definitely wailing.

The college participated in the emergency drill along with state police, state Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers and police, the Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad, the Paul Smiths-Gabriels Volunteer Fire Department and the Franklin County Office of Emergency Services.

Until Thursday morning, most of the college community didn’t know what the emergency would be, with Campus Safety just warning them to be ready for a disaster drill that was scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Around 10 a.m., a call was made to 911 – noting that it was a drill – saying a bomb set to go off at 10:30 a.m. had been placed in a Dr. Seuss backpack on the porch of Lambert Residence Hall, a small building that houses about 20 upperclassmen in the middle of campus.

The building was evacuated, campus went into a lockdown state, and state police were dispatched. A trooper with a bomb-sniffing dog went onto the porch and checked the backpack, finding it to be clear of explosives.

Around that time, another threatening phone call was made: “You’ll pay for not accepting me into your program,” the caller said. And shortly after that, “I win; you lose.”

The students and emergency responders gathered on campus heard an explosion coming from a little ways away from Lambert. It was actually a “flashbang,” a stun grenade meant to surprise and distract people with a loud noise and a bright flash, but it was meant to simulate a bomb going off at Clinton Residence Hall, a 19-room building closer to the lake.

“The whole center of Clinton has been leveled,” Jerry Ainsworth, a drill evaluator, explained to a group of students who were gathered nearby.

The bomb immediately killed two people (who were simulated by dummies, one strewn on the ground outside the hall and one just inside the door).

About 10 other students were supposedly injured by the blast. Two of them could walk but were stunned, while the rest were left immobile: some writhing on the floor in moaning pain, some struck unconscious and others injured but still able to scream for their friends.

“Half of the building is just – is gone,” sophomore Christopher Wright, one of the student volunteers who pretended to be stunned but otherwise unharmed, told state police as they entered the building to evaluate the situation. “You have to go help them.”

Troopers checked out the building and evaluated the situation, testing out how they would call it in to their barracks and the Emergency Operations Center set up at the campus’ administration building.

“Theresa! Wyatt!” screamed Josh Howard, another victim, who was on the floor in the building’s common room wailing due to a number of mock injuries, including a bone protruding from his cheek. “Someone help Jess!”

Jessica Damiano wept next to Howard with a bloody leg, while Theresa Leclerc and Wyatt Gressler lay unconscious in the hallway.

Soon, campus nurse Reiko Rexilius-Tuthill and a helper, Justin Prado, showed up to triage the victims and give them emergency first-aid while waiting for ambulance crews to arrive. They evaluated each victim’s injuries, put a tag on each prioritizing how quickly they needed medical care, and gave the victims bandages and other temporary measures where they could.

As Howard continued to yell, Rexilius-Tuthill told Prado to talk to him and calm him down.

“Hey, I need you conserving your energy in there,” she yelled to Howard.

Eventually, a Saranac Lake ambulance and EMS crew showed up, and each student was loaded onto a stretcher in order of priority. Leclerc, lying unconscious half in the laundry room and covered in fake vomit, was the first to be loaded into the ambulance and taken away, while Damiano, with just a leg injury, was hauled out last.

Emergency Operations Center

As all that was happening, Campus Safety and other emergency officials were overseeing what was going on from the Emergency Operations Center.

Campus Security Director Phil Fiacco headed up the EOC operations, coordinating between four functional areas of the center: operations and logistics, which provided campus resources to help with the emergency; finance and administration, which tracks spending as resources were used; and planning, which acted as the eyes and ears, collecting and verifying information about what was going on.

Campus Safety has done table exercises in the past, talking through what would happen in an emergency situation, and in December they held a functional exercise in which they reached out to campus departments to talk about what they would need in an emergency, but not actually taking any actions.

“This is the next step,” Fiacco said.

Fiacco said some students ask why Campus Safety would participate in such a drill.

“I tell them, ‘You practice to play rugby, so we’re practicing in case there’s an emergency,'” Fiacco said.

After the students had been cleared from the dorm, Fiacco said he believed the drill was going well. He said he and his crew had identified some weaknesses and learned a lot from it.

Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or